Food assistance: a silver lining

Peter Ruark

While cleaning my office not long ago, I found a newsletter from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities titled “What’s Behind Dramatic Food Stamp Declines?”

A rather startling question to read, since for much of the past few years I’ve been writing about dramatic Food Assistance increases in Michigan.

The newsletter was dated Fall 1999, when Michigan had an October-December average of 257,748 Food Stamp cases. Slightly more than 10 years later, the Department of Human Services has reported a caseload of 848,429 for February 2010—an increase of 229 percent. (Check out this jaw-dropping chart on Michigan Food Assistance cases since 1979.)

This past February, approximately 17 percent of Michigan’s population lived in a household receiving Food Assistance. Of course, much of the increase in recent years is due to our state’s dire economic situation, but Michigan also deserves a lot of credit for actively promoting Food Assistance to families and individuals who qualify.

Food Assistance dollars are 100 percent federal, and those dollars support local grocers as well as freeing up money in low-income families’ budgets for other needs. In other words, an increasing caseload costs the state nothing while acting as a federal stimulus to local economies.

What is more, the Department of Human Services has just announced that it has successfully leveraged federal dollars to give approximately 180,000 Food Assistance households an extra $88 per month of benefits. More help to struggling families, more boost to local grocery stores, at no cost to Michigan.

We all hope for a day when Michigan’s economy will be strong again, and fewer struggling families will need public assistance. But for now, we should appreciate the fact that Michigan has made it much easier to receive federally funded Food Assistance.

As far as poor, low-income, or temporarily struggling Michigan residents are concerned, that’s one thing going on in Michigan that we can be happy about.

— Peter Ruark


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