Bringing the Economy Home

Idaho’s Growing Food Stamp Enrollment: Greater Need or Broader Eligibility?

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In response to our recent story about Idaho’s growing food stamp rolls, sent this 2010 article about the suspension of the state’s asset test for food stamp eligibility.  Like many other states, Idaho lifted the asset test in 2009.  Previously, families could not qualify for assistance if they held more than $2,000 in assets, not counting resources like their home and house lot.  According to the Department of Health and Welfare, the state’s food stamp rolls had ballooned prior to the decision to lift the asset limit, growing by 36 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Early this year, the Idaho Legislature amended the asset test, raising the limit to $5,000 and ending the temporary suspension.  The new limit went into effect in June.In my interview with Department of Health and Welfare Spokesman Tom Shanahan, he said it’s the agency’s supposition that the Idaho program has seen such dramatic growth in part because the state historically had below-average enrollment compared to the nation.  “Now, we think, a higher percentage of people who qualify come in to apply,” Shanahan said.  Currently, about 15 percent of Idahoans receive food stamps, which is right in line with the national average.

This analysis from The New York Times‘ Economix blog evaluates which factor has contributed more to growing food-stamp spending at the federal level — greater need, or broadened eligibility.  The piece finds that changes in eligibility rules have had a greater impact on total spending than growing poverty.  In defense of increased food stamp spending, one of the most oft-cited numbers is economist Mark Zandi’s 2008 estimate that a one dollar increase in food stamp payments boosts GDP by $1.73.

Current federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program guidelines are available here.


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