To stimulate economy, increase food stamp participation rates

Jill Richardson's post at La Vida Locavore on extremely low food stamp participation rates in San Diego got me thinking about how much room there is to improve enrollment in this program.

Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I'd like to see 100 percent of people who qualify for food stamps get them, just for the sake of reducing hunger in our communities.

But let's leave ethical concerns aside for now. Economic researchers, most recently Moody's, have calculated that expanding the food-stamp program produces more economic stimulus than any other kind of government spending, and much more than any form of tax cuts.  Every additional dollar spent on food stamps translates into $1.73 circulating in the economy.

This page on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website contains links to many studies comparing the state participation rates for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the official name for the food stamp program). All of the recent annual reports are pdf files. They show estimated numbers of people eligible for food stamps in each state, as well as an estimated percentage of those who receive food stamps.

In many states, food stamp participation rates have improved over the past six years. The median state in 2003 had an estimated 57 percent of eligible residents enrolled in the food stamp program, but by 2006 (the most recent year for which data are available on the USDA site), that figure rose to about 67 percent. Still, in an average state, only two-thirds of people eligible for food stamps are getting them.

The state-by-state figures reveal huge variation. In the top three states, more than 90 percent of people eligible for food stamps are enrolled in the program. That figure is above 80 percent for the next five states. In the states near the bottom, barely 50 percent of eligible residents get food stamps, and the figure is even lower in some major metropolitan areas.

I can't generalize about what needs to be done to improve participation in the food stamp program, because different states would need to tweak their policies in different ways. The USDA site links to research on factors that affect enrollment, and Jill Richardson talks about many of those factors here.

The economic impact of getting food stamps to more eligible people would be significant. California has consistently been near the bottom in terms of food stamp enrollment rates. The 2006 chart shows the state dead last, with only 50 percent of approximately 3.9 million eligible Californians estimated to be receiving food stamps. Even modest improvement in the enrollment rate would result in hundreds of thousands more people receiving food stamps. Those people would have more to spend on goods and services. Many retailers would benefit as the money flowed through the economy.

Iowa's food stamp enrollment rate is closer to the national average, but if we raised it from the 71 percent estimated for 2006 to 80 percent, nearly 30,000 more Iowans would be receiving food stamps. If we raised food stamp participation above 90 percent, roughly 60,000 more Iowans would be receiving food stamps.

Given the multiplier effect of food stamp benefits on economic activity, this program merits attention from policy-makers. Government spending on infrastructure projects is worthwhile, especially if used for smart investments in our transportation system or for making schools more green. However, food stamp recipients have the potential to get money circulating in the economy, saving jobs in the retail sector, faster than most "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects. Remember, no other form of government spending has more economic stimulus "bang for the buck" than food stamps.

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Weekly Audit: Welfare, Work and the Bailout Bonanza


by Zach Carter, Media Consortium MediaWire Blogger 

The U.S. economy lost nearly 600,000 jobs in January, bringing total losses in the past three months over 1.5 million—more than the entire population of Philadelphia. If there ever was a good time to mend the tattered U.S. social safety net, it's now. While unemployment benefits and food stamps remain relatively uncontroversial, basic welfare continues to be neglected by the general media and vilified by the right. And as of this moment, a responsible welfare program is needed more than at any point since the 1930s.  

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Somewhere in America

Senate delay on stimulus 'irresponsible': Obama

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.

Somewhere in America, a man loses the job he has held for more than thirty years.  Somewhere in America, a woman cleans out the office she had occupied for close to a decade.  Elsewhere in the United States, a teen unsuccessfully tries to find work.  He knows he needs to help his Mom and Dad; each toiled in the factory that closed just down the street.  A young woman searches for a professional position, just as she has for the two years since she graduated form the University.  Each of these individuals is not startled by the headline, Economy Shed 598,000 Jobs in January.   All ask, where have the "experts," Economists, and elected officials been?

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10 Percent Problems


What if a tenth of the young men in your community were in, or had been in, prison?

If you're African American, that would be optimistic, because one of every nine young Black men have been through the penal system. They don't commit crimes at higher rates than Whites of similar socioeconomic status, they don't use drugs any more often. But they're more likely to be arrested, more likely to stand trial once arrested, more likely to be sentenced to incarceration when they stand trial, likelier to be given and to serve a longer sentence than a White peer.

The statistics speak for themselves, they haven't been getting better over the years, and the war on some drugs is a prime culprit. It'd be great if legislators had more of a sense of fair play about these things, but who are we kidding?

Legislators aren't allowed to engage in public displays of compassion for people who've fallen off the straight and narrow unless those people are wealthy, White, and from 'good' families. Like, one observes, the good family that's given us our current president and his genocidal war. No, our poor people had better be moral. No, no ... super moral! Nigh angelic, really, for the privilege of sometimes getting medical care, a pittance for living expenses, college assistance, or being allowed to stay out of jail.

Color of Change is asking people to write their representative to end sentencing disparities between at least powder and crack cocaine.

Powder cocaine is done by wealthy, mostly White people who live in communities where the police aren't big into shaking down everyone they see for contraband. Crack cocaine is used mainly in communities of color, where a presumption of guilt is law enforcement's normative standard and raids and stings are far more common. We as a nation have winked at this, and many other injustices, and today, over ten percent of Black men between 20 and 34 are in jail or prison.

Please write to ask for an end to the injustice.

Food Stamps

So it also happens that 10 percent of Ohio residents are on food stamps, and it gets worse.

... 1.1 million Ohioans receive food stamps, and 500,000 more are eligible. ...

Those in households that make up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level - $22,880 for a family of three - and with assets no greater than $2,000, in most cases, are eligible for food stamps.

... Imagine the implications for a family of 3 making $22,880. Of that, $2630 goes to federal income taxes, $332 goes to Medicare, and $1418 goes to Social Security. As best I can tell, Ohio state tax is $500. That leaves roughly $18000 per year, or $1500 per month. For three people. And that is the BEST case scenario for this entire segment of 14%+ of Ohio's population. ...

Ohio's soup kitchens and other charities aren't able to keep up with the demand. The food stamp benefits, as noted at the link, are barely able to cover two weeks of groceries. And you know we're not talking about high quality groceries, but the sort of fast and dirty bulk calories that can be stretched just enough to keep body and soul together.

Though diet is a significant factor in physical and intellectual development that affects health and achievement for life, this country can't provide a decent diet to the children who've started off also with their parents' disadvantages. We've served them poorly.


America is supposed to be a Christian country. Our president and many lawmakers compete it seems to see who can more ostentatiously claim their faith and devotion to the teachings of Jesus. I suppose it's impossible to know what's in their hearts.

But I'd hope that maybe, someday, all of this maudlin display of sentiment would begin to shame more of them into reading the words of their alleged spiritual leader:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come! you who are the blessed ones of my Father, inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you from the beginning of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and fed you, or thirsty and we gave you a drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and we invited you in, or naked and we clothed you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and we came to you?"

40 And answering, the King will say to them, "Truly I say to you, as much as you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

41 Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire that has been kept in readiness for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you did not give me anything to eat, I was thirsty and you did not give me a drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I was naked and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me."

44 Then they will also answer, saying, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and we did not help you?"

45 Then he will answer them, saying, "Truly I say to you, as much as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me."

46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Our fellow citizens are in prison, they are hungry.

Who among our lawmakers will insist that they be treated with compassion? Who among them will minister to the needs of these least among us in power or wealth as if their very souls depended on it?

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House 2007 Farm Bill Hearing, Day 1

Washington, D.C. - "A sound compromise that no one is satisfied with, but nevertheless represents real reform." - From Rep. Collin Peterson's (D-MN) opening statement today on the 2007 Farm Bill.

The first House Agriculture Committee markup session on the 2007 Farm Bill began with Rep. Collin Peterson's opening statement, followed by everyone else's. Peterson said that Americans were fortunate to enjoy low, stable food prices, and food that meets the highest standards of quality and safety.

No markup, or voting on specific amendments, actually took place during today's session. The last changes to the legislation weren't made until late last night, and today was the first chance most members got to see the final versions, though Rep. Peterson said that the changes were minor in comparison to the version released a little over a week ago.

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