Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stores try to cope with rising tide of food assistance customers

The news this week is that a record number of Idahoans are using food stamps -- 235,000 people in December. Currently, federal food benefits totaling $30 million are distributed monthly.

On Monday, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Tom Shanahan went before legislative budget writers to suggest changing the program by staggering the day that benefits become available. Grocery store operators are backing the proposal, claiming the flood of food stamp users at the first of every month causes supply problems. But Shanahan estimated the change would cost an extra $220,000 a year, because four people would have to be added to field calls from recipients.

I've posted a link to a story from Bloomberg Businessweek that suggests how important the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is to the grocery business. Does anyone else find it significant that while they are administered at the state level by Health and Welfare, food stamps originate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture? Our nation's food policy affects not only the people who eat it, but farmers, agribusiness and grocery chains, i.e. a lot of people with jobs.