These 15 States Have the Most People on Food Stamps

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service reports there were around 44.2 million individual food stamps recipients receiving an average benefit of $125.40 each in 2016. It’s an alarmingly high chunk of our population who struggle to buy nutritious food to fill the fridge, but it makes sense as to why. Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and footing an expensive grocery bill is tough chore even middle-class families struggle with.

Households must earn less than 130% of the poverty level, or a net income amount less than 100% of the poverty level for their family size, to qualify for such assistance. This means a single person can be eligible for food stamps if his or her gross monthly income is under $1,307 ($15,684 per year), and a family of four will qualify if they earn less than $2,665 per month ($31,980 per year).

To get an idea for which state has the highest percentage of people on food stamps, we compared the USDA’s most recent state-by-state data with population data from the Census Bureau. We also listed a cost estimate these benefits place on the states each year to paint a better picture of the food stamp program overall.

Unfortunately, the state-by-state percentages of people on food stamps are higher than you’d ever imagine in these 15 states. And the money the government tosses at the program each year is sure to make some taxpayers’ blood boil — no matter how many people it helps.

15. Illinois

EBT card

Illinois has some of the most people on food stamps || Tim Boyle/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 14.6%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 1,869,067
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $224.28 million

Illinois’ state population is nearly 13 million according to the Census data, and almost 2 million of them have trouble putting food on the table. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that 65% of Illinois SNAP participants (aka food stamps) were in families with children in 2016 while 28% were elderly or had a disability.

Next: We go a bit further south for our next state

14. Kentucky

power line in kentucky

A large portion of Kentucky residents receive supplemental food assistance | Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 14.67%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 651,028
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $77.68 million

Kentucky just barely edged out Illinois for the 14th place ranking on this list. About one in six people qualify for food stamps in the Bluegrass State, totaling 651,028 people. The cost to the federal government (which covers 100% of the cost of food stamp benefits) is staggering — $77.68 million to be exact.

Next: The odds don’t favor everyone in this state

13. Nevada

las vegas subdivision

About 15% of people in Nevada are on food stamps. | Joe Klamar/AFP/GettyImages

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 15.06%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 442,862
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $52.71 million

As you’ll notice, states with a higher concentration of people on food stamps aren’t tied to any one particular region. Though Nevada is a large state, it’s only home to about 2.9 million people overall. But almost 500,000 residents qualify for food assistance, landing it in the 13th spot on this list.

Next: There’s nothing sunny about the cost of food stamps here

12. Florida

miami florida skyline

Florida has the most people on food stamps than any other state. | Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 15.20%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 3,132,728
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $380.92 million

Though Florida has a lesser percentage of people on food stamps than other states on this list, the sheer volume of people residing here make it the No. 1 state for total people on food stamps. Over 3 million residents receive assistance which costs the government close to $381 million a year.

Next: A familial trend in Oklahoma

11. Oklahoma

school bus

Some grandparents have to raise their grandchildren.| Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 15.3%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 600,192
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $73.11 million

The government spends over $73 million annually to provide over 600,000 people in Oklahoma with supplemental food assistance. It’s also a state where more grandparents are raising grandchildren themselves. This undoubtedly makes it tougher for elders already living on a fixed income to provide children regular meals.

Next: The issue in Delaware

10. Delaware

Capitol building in Dover in Delaware

Capitol building in Dover, Delaware | iStock.com/prosiaczeq

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 15.42%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 146,831
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $17.56 million

Throughout Delaware, families aren’t earing enough to fund basic needs as over 15% of the population is enrolled in the SNAP program. The state’s top industry for employment growth is fast food. But like Tom Gordon, a New Castle County executive, explains, “Fast food don’t buy houses.”

Next: People on food stamps top 1 million in this state

9. Tennessee

People walk past an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) station,

People walk past an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) station. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 15.55%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 1,034,396
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $129.73 million

Southern states dominate this list more than any other U.S. region. Tennessee is no different with over 15% of its total population receiving government assistance for food. The government spends a whopping $129.73 million ensuring residents can buy food for their families.

Next: A problem in the south

8. Georgia

Riverwalk in Augusta Georgia

There’s nothing peachy about Georgia’s food stamp expenditures. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 15.58%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 1,606,489
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $205.73 million

Georgia is home to over 10 million people. About 1.6 million of them receive government assistance for food. The total number of people on food stamps did decrease from 2016, but only slightly. As a result, the government spends an estimated $205.73 million on these benefits — and there’s nothing peachy about that.

Next: The government spends almost $100 million per year on SNAP in the next state.

7. Alabama

Welcome to Alabama road sign on US-84 near Gordon

Alabama has hundreds of thousands of people on food stamps | iStock.com/miroslav_1

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 16.31%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 793,146
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $95.45 million

While Alabama fares better than most of its southern neighbors also on this list, it’s not exactly considered a bright, shining star either. Numbers paint a clear picture for how rough some people in this state have it. It takes a humble $95.45 million dollars to support the 16.31% of Alabama residents on food stamps.

Next: Yet another southern state

6. Mississippi

girl in car

Mississippi is a notoriously poor state | Mario Tama/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 17.68%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 528,500
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $61.32 million

Mississippi has been ranked the poorest state many times over. So, it should come as no surprise that it also hosts a hefty percentage of people on food stamps. Over 528,500 people require additional funding to buy food, which costs around $61 million a year.

Next: Millions of dollars go to supplemental food assistance in this state.

5. Oregon

Portland, Oregon

There are more food stamp recipients than public school students in Oregon. | Png-Studio/iStock/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 17.73%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 725,588
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $79 million

The Beaver State rounds out the top five for the most people on food stamps. In fact, there are more food stamp recipients than public school students in Oregon. Well over 17% of the population receives government assistance which costs roughly $79 million each year.

Next: A tiny place with a large portion of food stamp recipients

4. District of Columbia

unemployment sign

A high unemployment rate in D.C. may contribute to the number of people on food stamps. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 18.06%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 123,036
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $16.4 million

A staggering 18% of residents in the nation’s capital are on food stamps. The inability to afford food seems only natural considering they live in one of the most expensive parts of the country. D.C. also has the second highest unemployment rate at 6.6% which could be a large reason their assistance needs are so vast. Only 26% of aid recipients are in working families according to CPBB data from 2016.

Next: They’re stuck in a vicious cycle in this next state

3. West Virginia

charleston, west virginia

West Virginia also holds a high unemployment rate. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 18.27%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 334,464
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $39.48 million

Data from West Virginia also validates a correlation between unemployment and supplemental food assistance. Just 37% of people on food stamps are from working families in West Virginia. The unemployment rate is as high as 5.1% statewide, making it hard to break the poverty cycle.

Next: A state with some controversy

2. Louisiana

man passing marijuana

It may be easier for drug felons to get food stamps in Louisiana. | Theo Wargo/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 19.05%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 891,796
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $112.61 million

Louisiana just misses the top spot for the state with the most people on food stamps — although it’s not really a category any state hopes to win in the first place. The government spends over $112 million to support over 891,000 impoverished people who can’t afford to eat. It seems this program will be a hot topic of conversation moving forward, as some in the Senate are supporting a vote that would give drug felons easier access to food stamps in the state.

Next: The No. 1 state for people on food stamps

1. New Mexico

New Mexico Landscape

The No. 1 state for food stamps is New Mexico. | muha04/iStock/Getty Images

  • Percentage of people on food stamps: 20.25%
  • Number of people on food stamps: 463,107
  • Estimated cost of benefits: Around $58.58 million

New Mexico has a greater share of people on food stamps than any other state. It also shows no sign of breaking the unemployment rate/food stamp trend set by West Virginia and the District of Columbia. New Mexico struggles with a debilitating 6.1% unemployment rate which surely helps pad a hefty 20.25% food stamp rate. That means over 1 in 5 people struggle to feed their families in this Southwestern state.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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