OTTUMWA — The use of food stamps in Wapello County increased during the recession, assisting families in stretching their food dollars, contributing to local spending and helping spark a national debate about the future of the federal nutrition program.
The proportion of Wapello County residents receiving food stamps hit 22.5 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services. That’s an increase of 7.1 percentage points since 2007, the year the recession started.
Across Iowa, 13.1 percent of residents in 2011 received support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as the food stamp program is officially known. Nationally, 14.8 percent of the population receives SNAP benefits.
Places like Wapello County, which are located outside metropolitan areas, tend to have a higher percentage of the population receiving SNAP benefits. That’s because incomes are generally lower in nonmetropolitan counties.
The inflation-adjusted median household income in Wapello County in 2011 was $41,427, compared to the Iowa median of $51,314. Nationally, median household income was $52,306 in 2011.
In 2011, residents of Wapello County received a combined $12,449,274 in SNAP benefits. The USDA reports that each $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in spending.
SNAP benefits start to circulate in the economy quickly. Participants spend nearly all their food stamps within one month of receipt, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire Carsey Institute.
Grocers say they feel the impact of SNAP and other USDA nutrition programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
“Without SNAP and WIC, we wouldn’t be able to make it,” wrote the owner of the Mill City Market in the small town of Mill City, Ore., in a survey of rural grocers conducted by the Oregon Food Bank and Kansas State University Rural Grocery Initiative.
Owners know they have to stock the shelves to prepare for more business when SNAP benefits hit the streets, said David Procter with the Rural Grocery Initiative.