Monday, December 03, 2018

Rural households more likely than urban to use food stamps

SNAP participation in rural counties from 2012-2016 (Map by FRAC; click on the image to enlarge it.)
From 2012 to 2016, rural households were more likely than urban households to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to a recent analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

In their Rural Hunger in America report, the Food Research and Action Center differentiated between households in rural areas and those in small towns under 2,500 people; metro areas saw 13 percent participation in SNAP, while rural areas had 16 percent participation and small towns had 15 percent participation.

There are more senior citizens in rural areas, and that's driving the increase, Peggy Lowe reports for Iowa Public Radio. Ellen Vollinger, the legal director of FRAC, told Lowe that most other rural SNAP participants are families with children and low-wage workers who don't make enough money at work to cover their bills. Farm income is also down because of low crop prices, which makes it likely the trend continues today, Lowe reports.

FRAC notes that more rural residents need access to SNAP and suggests in its report six strategies to increase participation:
  1. Increase education and application assistance. Many people don't know they're eligible, may feel shame about applying for SNAP, and/or might be confused by the application process. States can partner with non-profits to help educate and work with potential applicants.
  2. Address poor access to rural offices for rural residents. Many rural residents live far away from SNAP offices and don't have transportation. States can operate mobile eligibility offices and offer applications online, over the phone, or via app.
  3. Change SNAP so more working poor and other rural residents can access it.States can eliminate asset tests in SNAP and allow applicants with gross incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line to have their out-of-pocket costs for other basic needs taken into account to determine if they have net incomes low enough (100 percent of poverty) to qualify for SNAP benefits. That helps more senior citizens qualify, as well as working families with high childcare costs.
  4. Promote opportunities to connect older adults to SNAP and age in place. Fewer than half of eligible rural senior citizens participate in SNAP, and many who do get less than they could. States can partner with non-profits to work with seniors on application assistance, and the USDA could streamline the application process and allow out-of-pocket medical expenses to count against their income. State funds could be used to supplement SNAP benefits.
  5. Prepare to meet future disasters with Disaster SNAP. Disaster SNAP helps natural disaster victims, many of which have been rural because of hurricanes and wildfires. States can better help these survivors by updating their D-SNAP plans and explore streamlining the application process and partnering with non-profits to help with education and application assistance.
  6. Use SNAP employment and training resources. Fewer rural residents would need SNAP if they had better jobs. States can use federal SNAP employment and training resources and partner with other stakeholders like community colleges to help rural residents get better job skills.

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