Demand for Food Stamps up 85% in Mass.

Nearly twice as many Massachusetts residents rely on food stamps today as did just four years ago.  
The number of Massachusetts households receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, (“SNAP”), formerly known as food stamps, jumped from 238,000 in January 2007 to 440,000 in January this year, an 85 percent spike.
The fastest growth in the program came from mid-2008 to late 2009, when more than 5,000 new households began receiving SNAP benefits every month for 16 consecutive months, according to data from the state Department of Transitional Assistance, which administers the program.
In the single largest month-to-month increase, roughly 14,000 new households joined the program between June and July 2009, followed by jumps of more than 6,000 each of the next three months.
These sharp increase is clearly tied to the rise in unemployment, which spiked at 8.8% in Massachusetts in November 2009.  Since 2007 Massachusetts’ unemployment has been below the national average, which is currently at 9%.  Massachusetts unemployment currently stands at 7.6%. 

US Bureau of Labor Statistics

The rise in unemployment puts tremendous added pressure on food panttries across the state.  “I definitely have an increase of (seniors) who want to go to the food pantry who never would have been somebody who would go to the food pantry,” said Lisa Ushkurnis, clinical social worker at the Callahan Center in Framingham.

More Massachusetts residents are still signing up for SNAP every month, but at a slower pace than the peak. A few more than 2,000 households joined the program between November and December last year, followed by just 698 more in January – the smallest increase in nearly four years.
Another 2,820 households joined SNAP in February, the last full month for which the state had data available.
Two reasons likely explain the surge in the food assistance program: The recession and hard work by state leaders to enroll more people who were eligible, said Julia Kehoe, commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance.
The food assistance program is meant to help families and individuals who live near the poverty line put healthy food on the table. To qualify, a household of two with children can make no more than $2,429 in gross income per month, $3,052 for a household of three or $3,675 for a household of four, according to a state website on the program. SNAP also has limits on savings and other resources to qualify.
Benefits, which total more than $107 million a month in Massachusetts, are federally funded. The national and state governments split the cost of administering the program. Recipients receive benefits on Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards, which limit what the money can be spent on.
Thanks to David Riley at the Milford Daily News for the information his story provided for this article.

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