Special Reports

Food stamp increases begin today

More than 1.8 million Floridians will receive an increase in food stamps starting today as part of the federal economic stimulus.

That’s welcome news to more than 27,000 Manatee County residents who depend upon food stamps to help them put food on the table. A year ago, the number of Manatee food stamp recipients was just less than 17,000, according to a report from the state Department of Children and Families.

Food stamp benefits will go up by about $20-$24 a person per month. All food stamp households will benefit.

DCF reported a food stamp case load of 1,863,588 statewide in February — 31 percent more than in February of 2008.

Manatee County saw a 61 percent increase during the same period, said Terry Field, spokesman for the DCF Suncoast Region.

“That’s the highest percentage increase ever seen in a single year in Manatee County,” Field said. “That’s pretty typical because the farther south you go the higher the percentage increases go. Lee County had a 65 percent increase. That entire stretch of I-75 from Tampa Bay south to Fort Myers and Naples has been hard hit because of record foreclosures. The trend is definitely upwards.”

“This federal money will help Floridians put food on their tables and also boost our economy during this deep recession,” said John C. Hall, executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, a nonprofit organization providing research on state economic policies affecting low- and moderate-income Floridians and small businesses. The group estimates $380 million in economic activity will be generated in the state from the food stamp increase during the next six months.

Nationally, more than 75 percent of all food stamp recipients are in families with children and almost one-third are seniors or people with disabilities, Hall said.

The Agriculture Department estimates that every $1 in food stamps expands the economy by $1.84. The estimated $34 million in additional food stamp funding in Florida in April will generate about $63 million in economic activity. The $206 million in increased expenditures from April through September will result in a $380 million boost to Florida’s economy, Hall said.

The food stamp increase is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, designed to stimulate the economy by bolstering consumption by individuals, businesses and government.

Experts agree that food stamps are one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus available because low-income people generally spend, rather than save, their available resources to meet basic needs such as shelter, food and transportation.

The extra spending from the added food stamp benefits will ripple through the entire economy, Hall said.

When a family uses its benefits to buy at a local store, the money helps the store pay employees and suppliers, who are able to continue making their own purchases.

Nearly nine out of 10 households that receive food stamp benefits have incomes below the poverty line, Hall said. About 40 percent have incomes below half of the poverty line, which is about $8,800 annually for a family of three.