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Food stamp money is now distributed on EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards.

Understanding Food Stamp Use in Idaho

Background

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact Idaho

Sandy Brown works in the Boise Health and Welfare office. She helps people apply for food assistance and Medicaid.

This page is no longer being updated. For ongoing coverage of this topic, go to Boise State Public Radio’s website.

The number of Idahoans signed up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits has increased dramatically since the onset of the Great Recession.  SNAP, more commonly known as the food stamp program, is federally funded, but is administered by the state Department of Health and Welfare.

Department spokesman Tom Shanahan says Idaho has watched demand for food stamp benefits rise steadily, month by month, since 2007.  State enrollment totaled 86,946 in June 2007.

Last year, 13.5 percent of Idahoans received food stamps, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  That works out to about 214,000 people. It’s an increase from 2010, when 12.5 percent of Idahoans were enrolled in SNAP.

In fact, as shown in the graph below, Idaho’s rate of food stamp use has risen year after year since 2007, when it was 6.2 percent.

Food stamp eligibility is means tested, but, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, it is not limited to specific categories of people.

Monthly income is the most important determining factor in eligibility.  SNAP benefits are available to those whose total income is equal to or below 130 percent of the poverty guideline, whose net income is equal to or below the poverty line, and who meets specified asset limits.  (College students and undocumented immigrants are among those who do not fall under the program’s broad umbrella.)

Given that Idaho’s poverty rate has climbed upward year after year since 2007, it stands to reason that food stamp use is also on the rise.  Moreover, Idaho is singled out as one of the states in which enrollment has grown the most since the recession’s onset.

The average SNAP recipient receives about $134 per month.  The Recovery Act boosted SNAP payments by 13.6 percent, or about $20 per month for most recipients.  Critics of the program’s expansion in the years post-recession point to that and other eligibility adjustments.  That temporary boost is set to end in November 2013.

In fiscal year 2011, federal spending on the food stamp program totaled about $78 billion.

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