Almost twice as many kids helped by food stamps than before recession

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To see article as it appeared in Newsday

Updated January 28, 2015 9:43 PM
By OLIVIA WINSLOW

The number of children receiving benefits from food stamps in 2014 is nearly twice as high as the number receiving such assistance before the start of the recession in 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau said Wednesday.

The bureau found that 22 percent of all children under 18 — about 1 in 5 — received food stamps in 2014, or an estimated 16 million, compared with “roughly” 9 million children — about 1 in 8 — in 2007, before the start of the 18-month recession that officially ended in June 2009.

The bureau also found that the highest percentage of children receiving food stamps lived with their mother only, 47 percent in 2014, up from 33 percent in 2007; followed by two unmarried parents, 39 percent in 2014, up from 22 percent in 2007. The percentage of children living with married parents and receiving food stamps in 2014 was 11 percent, up from 5 percent in 2007.

The bureau’s statistics come from its 2014 “Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement,” which officials said has collected statistics on families and living arrangements for more than 60 years.

While the bureau did not comment on the reason for the increase in children with food stamps, other experts noted the expansion in eligibility for the federal food stamp program, known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as well as more program outreach and general economic factors.

“Effective March 1, 2009, the regulations expanded categorical eligibility, which could have contributed to an increase from that point forward,” Karen Garber, spokeswoman for Nassau County’s Department of Social Services, wrote in an email.

Garber said the department does not differentiate between children and adults, counting only individuals who receive SNAP. In 2007, she said 28,288 individuals in Nassau County received SNAP; by the end of 2014, 66,130 individuals received the food assistance benefit.

Suffolk County experienced an increase as well: 40,800 individuals received SNAP benefits in December 2007 and by last October the number was 127,838. The bulk of the increase came from individuals and families who do not have a temporary assistance case, which is the larger welfare benefit, Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill said in an email.

O’Neill said other “primary drivers of the increase in SNAP caseloads” include:

The recession in 2008, which adversely impacted local, state and national economies.

The “job substitution effect,” where an individual obtained a job that paid less than a prior one.

O’Neill added that applications for SNAP benefits can now be made online, precluding a visit to a service center. He said there had also been “marketing outreach.”

Eligibility expansions aside, Renee Wilson-Simmons, director of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in an email the census bureau’s data “isn’t a surprise to us here at NCCP. . . . While the Great Recession may have ended, its repercussions continue to be felt among many single- and married-parent families.”

Ross Fraser, a spokesman for the Chicago-based nonprofit Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks, said, “For the people we serve, the economic recovery has not happened for millions of these households.” He added, “you will not find a food bank in the country that will tell you the need for emergency food has diminished.”

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