Watauga ranks less than half of NC average in food stamp usage

Article Published: Jun. 5 | Modified: Jun. 5
Watauga ranks less than half of NC average in food stamp usage

The number of Watauga County residents receiving food stamps is less than half of the state’s average, despite an increase in usage in the years following the national recession.

According to information supplied by the Watauga County Department of Social Services, as of June 1, 3,795 people receive food and nutrition benefits in the county. This is spread over 1,935 households.

Women age 21 to 30 and children up to the age of 12 are the largest group of benefiters, according to DSS.

Food stamp usage in Watauga County, however, increased 3.5 percentage points from the onset of the recession till 2011, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the Center for Rural Strategies, 17.1 percent of residents received support from the SNAP program in North Carolina in 2011.

Reports from previous years by month in Watauga County are unavailable at DSS, but an older report from June 1, 2011, indicated there were 3,980 participants in the program, revealing a slight decrease over the past few years.

Usage of benefits tends to be at its highest during the cooler months preceding winter.

“Applications tend to increase in October,” said Annette Sluder, FNS supervisor for Watauga County. “This is partly due to energy programs offered in October, and folks who had summer income are beginning to lose summer employment.”

While rural areas might typically fare worse compared to urban areas, Watauga County is bucking the odds.

According to a report compiled by Robert Gallardo of Mississippi State University Extension Service, places like Watauga County tend to have higher percentage of the population receiving SNAP benefits, due to lower incomes compared to metros.

In 2011, residents of Watauga County received a combined $5.5 million in SNAP benefits, Gallardo said.

The USDA reports that each $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in spending.

“In years past, Watauga County has had a lower participation rate,” Sluder said. “I understand this is due to the college population. Most college students do not meet policy regulations to receive benefits; however, students that receive benefits leave the county at graduation. Also, with the Hospitality House, our numbers fluctuate as folks may stay for only a short period of time.”

Need Benefits?

Those wishing to inquire about receiving SNAP benefits need to come in person to the DSS. They will be required to complete an interview and provide verification of required items to determine eligibility.

In addition to meeting policy requirements, a household must be below income limits in order to receive FNS benefits, Sluder said.

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