Food stamp use increases in tough economy

By Alyssa Mentzer
March 13, 2010

More Americans, because of the economic crisis, are turning to food stamps. These are Americans who take pride in their work, careers and ability to provide for themselves.

As the economy is spiraling downward, however, many people who never before had to turn to government programs for assistance, are feeling helpless and embarrassed to ask for the biggest necessity of life, food.

According to government reports One in eight Americans is now receiving food stamps. The government reports also show a  22 percent increase in food stamp use in 2009.

For over 40 years the USDA Food and Nutrition service has been providing low-income families with food through the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”  SNAP is the official federal food stamp program and strives to put healthy food on families tables.

In order to keep up with the number of people applying for food stamps, the government has implemented a new system to make using food stamps easier and more comfortable for customers.

Instead of using food stamps customers use electronic benefit transfer cards that operate like a debit card.

“EBT makes life easier for vendors and retailers.  It is like using a debit card.  Actual food stamps were a lot more complicated,” Mark Eckhouse, vice president of Mcaffery’s food store, said.  “Today, registers are programmed to read these cards and deduct money off the bill for approved items.  Any unapproved items are paid out of the customer’s own pocket.”

Not only do EBT cards make life easier for grocers, they also take the embarrassment out of using food stamps for the customer.

“EBT is blind.  The customer uses the card the same way someone would use a debit card.  The cashier knows it is a an EBT card, but the person standing behind them has no idea.  It prevents people from feeling embarrassed about being a part of this program,” Eckhouse said.

In order for a family or individual to be eligible for an EBT card they must apply to their state government and meet certain requirements regarding income, deductions and employment requirements.

Although more people are applying for EBT cards, food stores are not seeing a huge jump in sales or the demand for food.

According to Costco in King of Prussia, Pa., they do not need to stock up on extra food to supply those bringing in EBT cards.  They use their normal supply of food for buyers.

“People are shopping for food the same as they always have.  The only difference is that we have seen an increase of 9 percent of enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” Marisa Copowell, a Pennsylvania grocer, said.

As the economy sinks deeper into the recession more and more people that once were economically stable are going to be reaching out for food stamps.

“The thing to remember is that they are regular customers that have always shopped at that store.  They buy from the same shelves as anyone else and use many of the same products.  They are just receiving extra help,” Eckhouse said.

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Alyssa Mentzer

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