Food Stamp Rolls Hit Record

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Arizona added 17,000 people to its food stamp rolls in October, as near-record-high levels of assistance continued to stubbornly hang on after 18 months.

The increase from September to October brought the total number of food stamp recipients in the state to about 1.14 million, according to the latest report from the Arizona’s Department of Economic Security. Households getting food stamps in the same period grew from 483,317 to 490,522.

In Gila County, the number of people getting food stamps jumped from 5,900 to 12,924. That means about one in four residents are in the program.

Good and bad

Advocates saw good and bad news in the numbers: Good in that more people are getting assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), bad in that more people are in need.

“It’s good in that more potentially eligible people and households are becoming enrolled,” said Brian Simpson, spokesman for the Association of Arizona Food Banks. But he said it is also “a commentary on where we’re at” in terms of poverty in the state.

The executive director of the Arizona Community Action Association also had mixed feelings about the numbers, but wasn’t surprised by them.

“It’s unfortunate for the number of people needing it, but it’s good that it’s there for them,” Cynthia Zwick said.

And the latest numbers may not even tell the whole picture. According to a 2009 estimate, the most recent from the U.S. Agriculture Department, the program was only reaching 71 percent of Arizonans who qualified for benefits.

“That means three out of 10 people aren’t participating,” said Stacy Dean, an expert in food assistance at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It’s worth assessing what are the barriers to having a higher participation rate.”

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