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44 States, D.C. Report IncreasesIn Participation in Food Stamps

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The food-stamp rolls, one measure of the nation's economic climate, grew sharply this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

An agency report mandated by the Congress to analyze the increase in food-stamp participation says the trend is "highly correlated" with a jump in the numbers of welfare recipients, another barometer of family well-being.

The report says 44 states and the District of Columbia reported increases in the number of food-stamp recipients in the past year, with Texas, California, and Florida accounting for nearly half the increase. The food-stamp rolls jumped by more than 1 million, or 5.6 percent, between 1989 and 1990, bringing the total number of recipients to more than 20 million for the first time since 1985.

During the same period, the number of recipients of Aid to Families With Dependent Children, the federal welfare program supplemented by state contributions, rose by nearly 400,000.

The U.S.D.A. said it could not pinpoint the precise cause or causes of the increase in food-stamp participation. But it cited three "likely contributing factors"--an increase in state unemployment, expansion of the Medicaid program, and the legalization of undocumented aliens under the Immigration Rend Control Act.

The report, prepared by the Mathematica Policy Research consulting firm, also cites changes in the economy not reflected in the national unemployment rate, demographic variables, and expansions in AFDC and the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children as potential contributing factors.

The Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program established under the Family Support Act of 1988 and an expansion of the A.F.D.C. program for unemployed parents have the potential to boost welfare rolls, the report notes, which would also trigger greater awareness of, access to, and applications for food stamps.

But the timetable for implementation makes it "unlikely that [the changes in the welfare law] caused the increase in food-stamp participation," the report concludes. It suggests that economic and other factors affecting the food-stamp rolls have also boosted A.F.D.C. participation.

A limited number of copies of "Recent Trends in Food Stamp Program Participation: A Preliminary Report to Congress," are available free of charge from the Food and Nutrition Service, U.S.D.A., 3101 Park Center Dr., Room 214, Washington, D.C. 22302.--D.C.

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