Food stamp use nearly doubles since ’07

Published 8:49 pm Saturday, June 30, 2012

Linda McCain has been mostly out of work for three years, ever since the company where she had been employed for a decade shut down.

She has three children between the ages of 2 and 11, two of whom are disabled.

“It’s hard to get people to watch them, especially in the summertime,” she said. “It’s kind of hard for me to work.”

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Last week, she found herself part of a growing trend in Suffolk when she applied for food stamps. The number of families receiving the federally-funded benefit in Suffolk has nearly doubled the past five years.

In May, 6,523 families received food stamps, which are now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits. For the fiscal year that ended Saturday, roughly $20 million was paid to Suffolk residents to buy food.

The increase is hardly surprising with the number of people out of work, Suffolk Department of Social Services Director Leonard Horton said.

“Our caseloads prior to (the recession) were very flat,” he said.

Between January and June of 2007, the number of families receiving food stamps in Suffolk actually fell slightly. But it has been on the rise ever since, although it has begun to level out, Horton said.

It wasn’t just unemployment that added to the public assistance rolls, he said. Policy changes made in 2009 as part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also made many more individuals eligible for food stamps than before.

“I’m hoping we’ll begin to see a reduction in the caseload,” Horton said, noting that the increase has slowed in recent months.

Like food stamps, other forms of public assistance also have increased. In fiscal year 2011, Suffolk residents received about $122.8 million in food stamps, Medicaid, energy assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other benefits.

“The vast majority of that is Medicaid,” Horton said.

McCain said her personal situation plus the economy have combined to make things especially tough on her. With her children’s disabilities, she sometimes has to miss work even when she does have a job.

Her co-workers at her old job understood, she said. They had known each other for years.

But “walking into a new job and you call in steady, they’re not going to put up with that,” she said.

McCain used to live in North Carolina but came to Suffolk looking for work. She hopes to find it soon.

“I went to two interviews this week, so hopefully that’s a good sign,” she said.