Department of Health and Welfare director Dick Armstrong told members of the legislative budget committee Monday that food stamp cases are a good measure of the economy.
If that’s the case, Idahoans are hurting, but there may be reason for optimism.
The Idaho Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, has grown by leaps and bounds since 2007, but the rate of increase is slowing, says Armstrong.
In 2007, more than 87,000 Idahoans took food stamps, a number that jumped to 235,000 people in 2011. That’s a growth rate of more than 270 percent. The 2011 numbers also mean that about one in sevenGemStateresidents is using food stamps.
But things are improving, albeit slowly. “We are still experiencing growth, but the rate has slowed,” Armstrong said. The food stamp program paid out more than $30 million in benefits each month in 2011, a jump from 2007's figure of $8 million each month.
Administration for food stamps costs about $18 million annually, a cost equally split by the state and the federal government. Thanks to new technological systems, each food stamp worker handles about 550 cases, up from 164 in 2007.
The administrative aspects could see slightly more money in 2013 if Armstrong has his way in the budget committee. The food stamp programs is asking for $220,000 in total money, half coming from state funds, to pay for an extended benefit release date for program recipients.
Idaho grocers complained after the state condensed food stamp distribution down to the first five days each month. The state cut down disbursement time to save money, but grocers experienced overwhelming demand in those first five days of each month, particularly on the first of each month.
It looks as if the state will jump back to a spread-out distribution method. Armstrong says the $220,000 will pay for communication efforts, embossing food stamp cards and four workers to coordinate the changes. “No matter how many times you communicate, sometimes people just don’t listen,” Armstrong said, explaining the need for the funds.