The most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows the country now has a record-breaking number of people receiving food stamp benefits. Alabama saw a huge uptick following a major natural disaster but one root to their problem is their high poverty rate --something the Chicago-area knows well too.
The most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows the country now has a record-breaking number of people receiving food stamp benefits. Alabama saw a huge uptick following a major natural disaster, but a major root to their problem is a high poverty rate -- something the Chicago-area knows well too.
In May, 45.8 million people had to use food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to feed themselves. That is equal to 15 percent of the entire American population and a 1.1. million increase from the previous month.
At the heart of such unsound news is the state of Alabama, which is largely being blamed for pushing the numbers up so high. In Alabama, a total of 1.7 million of the state's 4.7 million residents -- or 36 percent -- are receiving benefits. Of course, the devastating tornado in late April is largely to blame, but Alabama already had an extremely high poverty rate at 17.5 percent in 2009, according to the latest Census data.
Progress Illinois took a look at our local poverty rates this week in light of a "poverty tour" that is headed to the Chicago-area this weeknd. What we know is nationwide, the poverty rate is 14.3 percent. The poverty rate statewide in Illinois is below that at 13.3 percent, but Chicago clocks in at an astounding 21 percent.
Food stamps in Illinois made news earlier in the year during the heated debate on a bill meant to make it harder to use them. The latest numbers from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows 1,802,252 people were on food stamps in February 2011. A Daily Herald report also shows that food stamp use has nearly doubled in the suburbs in the last five years and not surprisingly, most of the state’s users -- a total of 950,300 -- came from Cook County.
At the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which serves 678,000 people per year in Cook County via shelters, pantries and food kitchens, officials say they have seen a 59 percent uptick in those needing food in the last three years. “This sort of record demand for both food stamps and food through pantries is no surprise to us,” depository spokesman Bob Dolgan said. “It just shows the level of need that is out there right now.”
In fact, three years ago when the need for help started to climb, the depository started a program that puts counselors and volunteers at their various locations to help people apply for food stamps -- a notoriously complicated 11-page application. “[Food stamps] can really help working people and people who are recently unemployed. It is a really powerful experience to tell someone they are eligible. Usually they say ‘it can’t be me’ or ‘I’ve been denied’ but then you go through [the application] and then, there’s more groceries for them,” Dolgan said.