The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 109,215 Delawareans were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps, in January 2010. By that time, economists had begun to say that the U.S. economy was beginning to show signs of recovery. However, as of April 2013, the U.S.D.A. reported that 153,857 Delawareans were utilizing SNAP benefits, an increase of 44,642 participants.
One in seven Delawareans receives SNAP benefits, according to Department of Agriculture data. The increase in SNAP users is an indicator for the economy’s overall health, said Elaine Archangelo, director of the Delaware Division of Social Services.
“I think SNAP usage is related to the economy,” Archangelo said. “Based on numbers I see, as the economy worsens SNAP usage goes up.”
Kent County has mirrored the statewide trend. In January 2010, 26,661 Kent County residents, including adults and children, were receiving SNAP benefits. By April 2013, that number had risen to 35,435, which represents a 33 percent increase. The majority of those who receive benefits from the program in Kent County are below the age of 18, according to U.S.D.A. data. Minors make up 42 percent of SNAP usage. The second largest age group enrolled in the program consist of 24- to 54-year-olds, who make up 34 percent of the usage.
One possible explanation for the increase in participation is the cost of living, Archangelo said.
“The cost of milk, fruit and vegetables had gone up,” she said. “Those expenses have increased but wages have not commensurately increased. People who were low wage are still low wage workers.”
The Food Bank of Delaware, which has distribution sites in Newark and Milford, is another organization that tackles the problem of hunger. The Food Bank is still seeing evidence that times are hard, said Kim Turner, head of community relations with the Food Bank of Delaware.
“I would say that many people are still having difficulty obtaining employment,” Turner said. “People are either unemployed or under-employed. They depend on SNAP to supplement their food budget.”
The Food Bank of Delaware helps those in need to fill out SNAP applications and provides education about how to prepare nutritious meals on a limited budget.
Despite high enrollment in the SNAP program, the Division of Social Services has data that offers a bit of promise. When the recession first hit in 2008, the program saw a 9.29-percent growth in cases, the following year it grew by 17.87 percent. In 2010, SNAP usage grew by 25.42 percent. However, the program hit its growth peak in FY 10. While a rise in cases was still occurring, the growth rate for 2011 was 21.48 percent and in 2012 it dropped to 12.41 percent. Officials with the Division of Social Services hope this trend will continue.
Page 2 of 2 - “Based on our recent and our past experience and our understanding of the jobs available, we expect the growth rate to continue to moderate as the economy improves,” Archangelo said. “However, we don’t actually expect to see a decrease in cases.”
While the U.S.D.A. reports that one in seven Delawareans benefits from SNAP, Turner’s calculations show that hunger affects more residents than it appears at first glance.
“Based on our 2010 info through the network for hunger relief we are serving one in four Delawareans,” Turner said. “Not everybody who is low income qualifies for SNAP, that’s where emergency food program comes in for people who don’t qualify, who are right on the cusp of eligibility.”
Through a program called Map the Meal Gap, the Food Bank of Delaware was able to determine that 12.4 percent of Kent County residents were deemed food insecure in 2010, meaning that individuals weren’t always able to acquire enough food for healthy living, of that 12.4 percent, 34 did not qualify for SNAP benefits.
For those who fall through the cracks of the SNAP system there are area organizations such as the Food Bank or churches and outreach centers with food closets. Kemuel Butler, assistant executive director for
Kent County Community Action Agency, runs a food closet, which Butler says is busier than ever.
“I see more people coming in now,” Butler said. “It’s like a trickling effect. If a business closes people are out of work. They have to go and find help, and one thing leads to another.”
Margaret Young, the food pantry director at Calvary Assembly of God Church in Dover, said the biggest change that she’s seen over the past four years is in the type of people seeking help form the church’s food pantry.
“The people we are seeing are people who played by the rules,” Young said. “They had a job, they were responsible, they paid their bills on time, they had a mortgage, but now they’re asking for help because they lost their jobs or their hours have been significantly reduced. These people don’t like asking for help, but they have to.”
Four years ago the food pantry was mostly serving those who were chronically unemployed or homeless, Young said. Four or five years ago the church would provide food for less than a dozen families a week. Now it is not uncommon to serve anywhere between 30 and 60 families at one time, Young said.
“Right now, the need is significantly higher than before,” Young said. “We see it increasing, not on the same scale as before, but it’s still increasing. People are saying that the economy is improving, but that is not the case. It’s not improving at all.”