The use of food stamps in Lincoln County increased during the recession, assisting families in stretching their food dollars, contributing to local spending and helping spark a national debate about the future of the federal nutrition program.
The proportion of Lincoln County residents receiving food stamps hit 5.1 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services. That’s an increase of 2.7 percentage points since 2007, the year the recession started.
Lincoln County’s food-stamp usage rate is lower than the state rate. Across Wyoming, 6.0 percent of residents in 2011 received support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as the food stamp program is officially known. Nationally, 14.8 percent of the population receives SNAP benefits.
Places like Lincoln County, which are located outside metropolitan areas, tend to have a higher percentage of the population receiving SNAP benefits. That’s because incomes are generally lower in nonmetropolitan counties. But Lincoln County bucks that income trend.
The inflation-adjusted median household income in Lincoln County in 2011 was $62,207, compared to the Wyoming median of $58,046. Nationally, median household income was $52,306 in 2011.
In 2011, residents of Lincoln County received a combined $1,089,570 in SNAP benefits. The USDA reports that each $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in spending.
SNAP benefits start to circulate in the economy quickly. Participants spend nearly all their food stamps within one month of receipt, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire Carsey Institute.
Grocers say they feel the impact of SNAP and other USDA nutrition programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Owners know they have to stock the shelves to prepare for more business when SNAP benefits hit the streets, said David Procter with the Rural Grocery Initiative.
Average SNAP benefits nationally fell about $30 a month per family in November after a temporary increase that was part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. More funding decreases are on the way.
This summer, Congress agreed to trim about $8 billion from SNAP over the next decade. Backers of the cuts said the program had expanded too much in recent years and was creating too much reliance on government assistance. SNAP expenditures increased 135 percent between 2007 and 2011.
Food stamps have been part of the farm bill for the past 50 years.
• Data for this article came from USDA Food and Nutrition Services, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census. The data was compiled and analyzed by Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., associate Extension professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.