Enrollment for food stamps up by 2 million since 2000

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

WASHINGTON -- More people are signing up for food stamps -- a sure indication of tough times but also a dose of medicine for helping revive the economy.

Enrollment has increased over the past two years from nearly 17 million in 2000 to 19 million in 2002, reversing a trend that began in 1994, according to the latest Agriculture Department figures.

With an increase in food stamp users, "grocery stores sell more food and farmers produce more food," agriculture undersecretary Eric Bost said. "That pumps more money, of course, into the economy."

In reality, food stamps no longer exist although the program still bears that name. Eligible recipients now get a plastic, ATM-like card to pay for their groceries, just like people using credit and bank debit cards.

Contracts and expands

Jean Daniel, an Agriculture Department spokeswoman, attributes the increased enrollment to both the economic downturn and to the agency's efforts to enroll more people.

"One of the beauties of the food stamp program is that it contracts and expands, depending on the economic situation," Daniel said.

Participation typically increases during recessions. The benefit allows participants to devote money they would otherwise spend on food to other purchases, which in turn stimulates the economy, the Agriculture Department notes.

In New York, for example, the 1.3 million people enrolled in the program are pumping about $125 million in food stamps into the local economy each month, said Edie Mesick, director of the Nutrition Consortium of New York State, which oversees the state's food stamp program.

Enrollment in New York increased by 2.8 percent from July 2001 to July 2002, yet 1.5 million eligible people still are not enrolled, Mesick said.

Lisa Rizzo, 32, of Rochester, N.Y., is now getting $375 in food stamp benefits each month to buy groceries. She spends all of it plus about an additional $50 of her own money on groceries.

Rizzo said she applied for the stamps in August because medical bills were making it difficult for her to buy enough food for her, her four children and disabled fiance on her $1,600 monthly income.

"We didn't have enough to spread around. Things were getting expensive. We weren't getting as much for our groceries," said Rizzo.

Under the program, households such as Rizzo's qualify for food stamps if they have no more than $2,000 in savings. They may have no more than $3,000 if one household member is at least 60 years old or is disabled.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: