Friday, October 27, 2006

North Shore, MA, office receives award for being a food stamp hunger champion

Congratulations to our almost-nearby North Shore Transitional Assistance Office in Salem, MA, for winning a top "hunger champions" award from USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. In a state that has one of the ten lowest rates of food stamp participation among eligibles, the North Shore office stands out as an example of what is possible.

Nationally, the FSP caseload has been increasing even during a time period classified by economists as economic expansion (source: USDA Economic Research Service). One reason may be that the current "expansion," unlike the economic expansion of the 1990s, is not helping low-wage Americans very much. Another reason may be the Food Stamp Program's efforts to encourage greater access among eligible people. Still, protecting the legal rights of low-income Americans, and helping them navigate the program assistance bureaucracy, can sometimes be a dreadfully difficult task that takes great energy and imagination on the part of organizations such as the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI).

The most authoritative indicator of state-level success in providing access is the "participation rate" among eligible people, which is computed a couple years after the fact. Nationally, by this measure, only about 60% of eligible people get food stamps. Because of the time lag for the authoritative statistics, USDA's Food and nutrition Service (FNS) uses a simpler "Food Stamp Program access index" to evaluate progress at the state level more quickly. It would be a great idea for FNS to post the results of this index to its main food stamp data page, but in the interim, the easiest place I know to find these data each year is the website of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).