Recession officially over, use of food stamps stays at record high
Increased need and eased eligibility requirements are reasons use of food stamps remains high. A food stamp 'debit card' reduces the stigma, too.
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To be eligible for food stamps, a family can have a collective household income no more than 30 percent above the federal poverty level, meaning about $14,000 per year for an individual or $28,668 per year for a family of four.Skip to next paragraph
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An individual can receive up to $200 per month for groceries, and a family of four up to $668. Conspicuous paper coupons have been replaced by electronic cards that shoppers can use like debit cards, easing stigma and fraud.
Mr. Weill says he has seen food stamp participation skyrocket during the past few years, and predicts even more Americans will be swiping food stamp cards at the register for months to come.
The program has already grown from 26.3 million users per month in 2007 to almost 42 million in 2010. It's projected to reach 43.3 million users per month in 2011.
In September, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the recession had ended in June 2009. So where's the recovery?
The recession may be over, but the damage will take years to rebuild, says Weill. "All it means is that the decline in GDP [gross domestic product] stopped, but there's very little evidence that the loss of jobs and wages has stopped," he says.
Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C., research group that studies policies affecting low-income Americans, says she expects a jobless recovery that may look very much like a recession.
"What we've seen is we've hit bottom and the economy is turning around and growing, but it's still well below where it was two or three years ago," says Ms. Rosenbaum. "After every recession, poverty continues to rise for a year or more."
A responsive balm
During a slow recovery that may take years to trickle down to Main Street, food stamps, Rosenbaum says, have been and will continue to be a responsive balm for Americans across the country who struggle to meet an immediate need: how to put dinner on the table.
For Hayden, who reapplied for food stamps in August after she couldn't find a teaching job, food stamps have allowed her to focus her energies on returning to school for a dual certification in teaching English to nonnative speakers.
"I'm grateful for it," says Hayden, as she uses her benefits to shop for dinner fixings at the Rochester Public Market on a sunny Saturday in October. "You pay into the system, and when you need it, it's there."