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Record use of food stamps

Dave McKinney of the Chicago Sun-Times reports: “The stagnant economy and double-digit unemployment rates in parts of Illinois have led to a record number of families getting food stamps.” But hard times aren’t the only reason: the program’s accessibility and consistent federal funding are also partly responsible.  In Illinois, 781,000 households now get food stamps, an 11.9 percent jump from a year ago. Applications are rising even faster: in June, they were up 27 percent compared to June 2009. Across the U.S., 43 million people may be on food stamps by 2011, which would be a national record.

A key question for both Illinois and the country is why food stamp use has singularly expanded in the recession compared to other social welfare programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, otherwise known as welfare. Food stamps have lost their “stigma” with both politicians and recipients, as the New York Times has extensively documented. But the main factor seems to be that the Dept. of Agriculture reliably finances the program.  Confident that federal dollars are there, states short on money like Illinois have little concern about expanding food stamp use. Indeed, the Sun-Times article actually provides a Web link for an Illinois resident can apply for food stamps with the state’s Dept. of Human Services.  Unlike extra unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and education funding, the federal government has delivered a level of funding for food stamps that satisfies state governments.

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