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As Food Stamp Enrollment Rises, a Call for Accurate Benefits Levels

April 1, 2008

Amid economic instability, food stamp enrollment in the U.S. is expected to hit 28 million in the coming fiscal year, up from 27.8 million this year. 14 states have already reached record enrollment, while 40 reported an increase in recipients in the past year. Though food stamp enrollment in New York City has been on the rise for the past decade due to the positive influence of advocacy and the negative effect of a troubled economy, city food stamp participation is still 24% below peak enrollment in 1995. Nationwide the percentage of Americans receiving food stamps is currently less than during the 1990s recession, states are seeing enrollment numbers continue to rise as unemployment has increased and wages have stagnated. Rising food costs are concurrently threatening the spending power of food stamps and the resources of food banks. Some first-time food stamp recipients are finding that benefits will not be enough to cover their food costs, as the standard deduction used to calculate benefit levels, which was fixed in 1996, has not been adjusted for current inflation rates, despite the fact that the cost of feeding a family of four on a budget has risen 6% in the past year alone. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, by adjusting benefits levels to the current economy, a family of three would receive an average of $37 more in benefits a month: no small difference when the average benefit equals about $1 per person, per meal. Indexing of benefits, like much nutrition legislation, is bound in the fate of the farm bill, to be determined April 18.

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