Friday, October 31, 2008

Food Stamps and Budgets

One of the annual rituals of a nonprofit director is to develop the budget for the organization every year. This year I’m anticipating lean times and planning accordingly.

Budget cuts are coming at a time when more and more people are seeking food assistance. Most families are feeling squeezed right now. Low-income families are hit the hardest when costs for basic needs go up.

It seems like a hopeless situation, but there is one source of food assistance that isn’t fully utilized. The Food Stamp Program, known as Food Support in Minnesota or SNAP in federal lingo, provides food assistance to individuals and families within certain income guidelines. Most of those who visit food shelves qualify for the Food Stamp program but on average in Itasca County about 40% of those eligible don’t use the food assistance that is available to them.

There are many reasons people give for not using the food stamp program. There is the stigma that can be attached to it, especially when stamps were redeemed at the grocery checkout. Now a debit card system is utilized. Other people in line at the store can’t tell the difference between a food support card or if a regular debit or credit card is being swiped through the machine.

Another barrier to food stamp use is the application process. In order to sign up for the program, people are required to visit the county office in person and provide certain documents to prove eligibility. Lack of transportation, understanding what papers to bring and the times the county office is open are barriers to folks who could enroll.

Monthly benefits can be as low as $10 per month for single low income individuals. The complicated process for eligibility and recertification is often given as more effort than the benefit is worth. As hunger relief organizations, we are encouraging people to use their benefits, even if they only get $10 a month. Most of us would pick up a $10 bill or use a $10 gift certificate. Monthly benefits can be also saved up and used as an aggregate up to 3 months.

Your neighborhood grocery store and the local economy are positively impacted by the food stamp program. Those food dollars stay local. If more folks used the food support funds they are eligible for, it would mean more money in the local economy.

Budgets of both low-income food stamp eligible families and grocery stores would benefit from increased participation in the food stamp program. If fewer people needed to use the food shelf because they were using food stamps instead, the budgets of hunger relief agencies like Second Harvest and your local food shelf would have reduced pressure. Increased participation in the Food Support Program would benefit us all.

Budget time, never fun and this year worse than ever, but at least there is one positive program we can promote and support.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Harvest is a historically a time of plenty. Our farming ancestors (or current family) felt rich in abundance in the fall as they filled their grain bins with corn and wheat, stocked the cellar with potatoes, onions and squash and stacked jars of home canned produce in the pantry. They were able to get by until spring when planting started and fresh food was growing again.

Harvest and fall make us think of apple pie and stew and a warm house to come into after raking leaves or a football game. But many of our neighbors have neither enough food in the cupboard or enough funds to keep the house warm. Current economic conditions have pushed people who were just getting by to now needing help to meet their basic needs.

I don't need to tell you how much the cost of groceries and gas have gone up this year. We are all feeling the effects of skyrocketing prices on our basic needs. But what if your budget left nothing extra to give? What if you were struggling to pay off medical bills or your mortgage payment that just doubled? What if you were still trying to pay off last year's heating bill? You wouldn't be getting another delivery until it's paid off. Now what do you do?

There is hope. As always, your local non-profit organizations are helping people meet those needs. Food shelves, soup kitchens, Community Action organizations and many others are there to help in times of crisis. Unfortunately, we expect the need to be much greater this year, as more people are unable to stretch their resources to meet their needs.

This fall, this harvest season, a windfall has come to help meet the extraordinary demand for help that will be needed this winter. The Blandin Foundation has stepped up in order to provide additional funding for Second Harvest and for heating assistance through KOOTASCA Community Action and The Sharing Fund Additional funding was also granted to other non-profit agencies that provide transitional housing. (For more information check out

What this means for Second Harvest and those we serve, is that we will be able to provide more food to each food shelf and soup kitchen served by the Food Bank, thanks to this supplemental funding by The Blandin Foundation. Fall and winter are always the busiest time for food shelves. This year we know it will be harder than ever to meet the increasing need. Thanks to this grant, food shelves and soup kitchens will have additional food available.

Harvest. Hope. Thanks to a generous community, we are feeding hope.