GALLIPOLIS — Food stamps in Gallia County is a slow-growing business, but a substantial business nonetheless.
According to statistics provided by Gallia County Job and Family Services (DJFS), currently more than 3,400 Gallia County households — and approximately 7,200 individuals — receive food stamps, totaling about $950,000 a month. With a countywide population of 30,970, that means that over 23 percent of all residents in Gallia County are currently receiving food assistance.
And, according to DJFS Director Dana Glassburn, with the state of the economy, there is no indication that the number of cases will decline anytime soon.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides assistance for purchasing food for low and no-income individuals living in the United States. It is a program administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the individual states are responsible for distributing the benefits.
During the 2011 fiscal year, $76.7 billion in food stamps was distributed nationwide. As of March 2012, 46.4 million Americans were receiving on average $133.14 per month in benefits — a monthly benefit average reflected in Gallia County, as well. Glassburn explained that despite often heard derogatory statements about recipients being “lazy” or “freeloaders”, food assistance almost never covers the entire cost of food for an individual or family.
“It is used to fill a gap,” said Glassburn. “Some seniors get $17 a month. What can a person really buy with that?”
According to information provided by Glassburn and his staff, the total amount of food stamps received by Gallia County residents in 2009 was nearly $9 million; $10.7 million in 2010; and $11.37 million in 2011. It is estimated that during the year 2012, $11.7 million in food stamps will be paid out in rural Gallia County, the state’s 73rd most populous county, which would mark a notable growth in assistance since 2009.
People who qualify for food stamps use an EBT card, which looks like a credit card, to make purchases. They can buy a variety of foods, prepackaged, breads, dairy products, certain bottled beverages, ice, meats, vegetables, fish, poultry and more. Excluded items include hot foods, food intended to be eaten in the store, pet food, and alcohol and tobacco products.
Officials say one doesn’t have to look far to see why so many Gallia County residents are finding it necessary to seek assistance to purchase food. And the trend in growth is not just in Gallia County, but nationwide.
“It’s been a serious economic downturn. There is a problem there,” said Glassburn, “but the food is not the problem. The [lack of] jobs are the problem.”
According to recent unemployment numbers, he is likely right.
According to July unemployment figures reported by the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division, Gallia County’s unemployment rate was 8.3 percent. Nearby Scioto County had the highest unemployment rate in the state at 11.0 percent.
While food stamps increase the purchasing power of individuals and families in need, they also significantly boost the economy of local communities. The USDA has determined that for every food stamp dollar spent, $1.84 is created in local economic activity.
In rural Gallia County, that means food stamps can be considered a big business, as it supports not only those who receive the assistance but also the local businesses that accept it — nearly $1 million each month.
“It would cripple Gallia County if we were to lose it,” said Glassburn.