Thursday, March 12, 2009

Florida Must Back Food Stamp Program


By Debra Susie, Ted Granger and David Reaney

The growing economic downturn is taking its toll on Americans nationwide. Here in Florida, the number of people needing assistance to meet basic living needs continues to rise in staggering numbers.

Over the last year, Florida added more than 408,835 new recipients to its food stamp rolls -- a 29 percent increase. Given the recession, that kind of growth is not unique to our state, but by the year’s end, Florida led the nation for its dramatic rate of growth in food stamp clients. The increase also represented the largest jump in the state's history, surpassing even the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.

As one would expect, there are other numbers on the rise, too. Call volume at Florida’s food stamp call centers was over 3 million for the month of October 2008 -- a 40 percent increase over the previous year. Many of these callers are first-time applicants who have lost their jobs during this recession. Even with economic recovery expected to begin in 2010, the Congressional Budget Office projects higher unemployment rates for the next few years, and Florida’s unemployment rate is already higher than the national average.

For fiscal year 2009-10, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) -- the state agency that administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp program -- projects that 288 additional full time equivalent positions are needed over the 4,109 positions currently in the food stamp eligibility division. This would equal $11,065,087 (or $6,569,588 from the state’s General Revenue fund). The rest comes from the federal government, which shares in the administrative costs for running the program.

There’s also the matter of the $5.4 million bonus awarded to Florida by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the most improved food stamp error rate in the nation.

These funds go right into the state’s General Revenue pot from which the Florida legislature can allocate at its discretion. This entire amount for a job well done should go to hiring new DCF employees and any needed upgrades to the state’s food stamp application technology.

As demonstrated by the inclusion of $19.9 billion for increased SNAP/food stamp spending in the recently passed federal Economic Stimulus bill, food stamps also have an immediate economic multiplier effect locally. USDA studies show that every $1 of federal food stamp benefits coming into the state generates nearly double that amount in local economic activity. Federal funding for SNAP/food stamps pumped over $1.4 billion into the Florida economy last year.

Many private nonprofits across our state are working cooperatively with DCF to provide application assistance to the increasing number of Floridians walking through their doors for emergency help. After dedicating some of our own private funds to help meet this extraordinary need, Florida must now allocate sufficient administrative funding to fully staff this federal food assistance program so it operates as efficiently as it can. This would remove a major roadblock in getting this federal resource to those who need it most.

Solving the economic downturn will not be easy, nor will it happen overnight. That is why we must secure basic needs such as food for those who need it most.
Susie is executive director of Florida Impact. Granger is president of the United Way of Florida. Reaney is president of the Florida Association of Food Banks.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Florida Forum.


Imee Rocks said...

I think the numbers there in Florida is pretty much a mirror of what's going on nationwide... It's sad to think that so many people are going hungry nowadays. I hope for a brighter future for everyone, and to see the day where nobody will ever have to go hungry again.

- Imee