The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

February 15, 2008

Hunger pains — Wapello County leads the state in food assistance

OTTUMWA — Numbers rarely tell the whole story. But when it comes to the well-being of children, decision makers need something to go on.

The Child and Family Policy Center, a not-for-profit agency based in Des Moines, recently issued its “Iowa Kids Count” report — information collected from every county in Iowa to show the trends affecting children, from infant deaths to high school graduation rates .

“Currently, one in seven children in Iowa lives in poverty and one in three is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches,” said Mike Crawford, the report’s author. “The economic conditions for many families have stagnated or worsened over the past six years.”

The study compares statistics from 2000 to 2006. Some things have improved for kids, he said, like the death rate among children ages 1-14 and the number of youngsters being immunized.

What hasn’t improved is the financial situation for families around the state.

While the report shows 19 indicators of child well-being figures, one of the biggest statistical changes in Wapello County is for food assistance or food stamps.

In 2000, there were 3,139 Wapello County residents receiving assistance. For 2006, that number swelled to 5,122. Then, as now, there were about 36,000 people living in the county, meaning 14 percent of residents are now on food assistance, the highest rate in Iowa.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel. “It’s certainly a problem that we want to alleviate in any way we can.”

He said since he has resided in Wapello County, the high level of poverty in the county has been an issue. And though there has been an increase of 63 percent receiving money for food, he asked what the increase for the state has been in the same period. According to the report, that figure is actually 81 percent.

“I think we’ve worked hard .... to help alleviate some of the poverty in Wapello County, but there’s certainly a long way to go,” Siegel said. “We have our senior commodity food program to help 250 low-income seniors. I just did my deliveries today. We donate to the Southern Iowa Food Bank. And we have our general assistance program.”

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