Earlier in September, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to advance a measure that would cut $4 billion, or 5 percent, from the food stamps programs each year for 10 years. The cost-cutting measure comes as the U.S. faces yet another round of debates over the fiscal budget and debt ceiling. The cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has more than doubled since 2008 to $78 billion, raising red flags for many members of the GOP who have been looking for ways to cut federal spending in the wake of the recession. SNAP, managed by the United States Department of Agriculture, provided assistance to 44.7 million people in fiscal 2011 — nearly one in seven Americans — each receiving an average of $134 per month. The percentage of Americans receiving food stamps is roughly the same as the number of Americans in poverty, but the USDA suggests that if food stamp benefits were included in stated income, as many as 3.9 million people would be lifted above the poverty threshold. Here’s a look at three states with particularly high rates of participation in the SNAP program.
According to the USDA, there were 667,267 people participating in the SNAP program in Mississippi as of June, or 22.5 percent of the population, up 1.2 percent on the year. The same month, Mississippi had a headline unemployment rate of 9 percent, 1.7 percentage points above the national average. Although the unemployment rate in the state has come down over the past few months, the actual number of people employed in the state has declined steadily since at least March. The downward movement in the headline rate is therefore a product of declining labor force participation, and it’s likely that many of the people who have dropped out of the labor force are relying on food stamps or other government assistance programs that are under review for spending cuts. With the employment situation still bleak and cuts on the horizon, local charities and food charities have seen a surge in demand.
2. New Mexico
According to the USDA, there were 443,784 people participating in the SNAP program in New Mexico as of June, or 21.6 percent of the population, up 0.8 percent on the year. That same month, the state had a headline unemployment rate of just 6.8 percent, 0.5 percentage points below the national average. However, like with Mississippi, the total number of people employed in the state has actually been on the decline, and the labor force participation rate has likewise been trending down. When SNAP funding is reduced at the end of October, as many as 42 percent of children in New Mexico are expected to be at risk of losing reliable access to food.
According to the USDA, there were 1,350,184 people participating in the SNAP program in Tennessee as of June, or 21.3 percent of the population, up 0.5 percent on the year. The same month, Tennessee had a headline unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, 1.2 percentage points above the national average and up 0.7 percentage points from March. Like Mississippi and New Mexico, the total number of employed people in Tennessee has been on the decline over the past few months, which has been accompanied by a reduction in the overall labor force participation rate. Rates of higher unemployment have been linked to higher rates of food stamp use, suggesting that the best way to reduce dependence on the food stamp program is to increase employment in particularly hard-hit states like Tennessee.
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