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Food Stamp Use Up 270 Percent, State Considers Staggering Payment Dates

The State Department of Health and Welfare reported Monday that the number of Idahoans using food stamps has sky-rocketed by 270 percent from 2007. That means about one in six people in the state need government assistance to buy food.

As of November, there were 235,000 Idahoans on food stamps, compared with 80,000 five years ago.

“And of course it’s the economy that’s fueling it basically,” said Health and Welfare public information officer Tom Shanahan.

He said the numbers have started to slow down in recent months, but, “I mean it’s still growing, and still setting records pretty much every month, but it is slowing,” Shanahan said.

But that doesn’t mean Idaho’s receipt is any smaller. The federal government will pay $380 million, just to Idaho, to foot the food bill this year alone.

“I think just this last recession, even those (people) that were kind of being self-sufficient were having trouble feeding the family, but now they’re coming in,” Shanahan said about the increase in applicants. The state’s statistics are now near the national average, when previously Idaho would have come in lower, Shanahan said.

At Ridley’s in Old Town, manager Steve Johnson said he has definitely seen more EBT cards being swiped.

“Well it means more business, on the first for sure, the first is like another holiday now,” Johnson said. Food stamps are distributed on the first of each month.

So they stock like it’s a holiday, putting more food on the shelves and bringing in extra employees. But that can be taxing for stores. Idaho legislators are thinking about spreading the release dates for food stamps over the first 10 days of the month to eliminate that rush.

“Sometimes it’s hard to keep up. It probably would be easier for us if they did stagger it,” Johnson said.

But it would be harder for Health and Welfare to keep up.

“There’s going to be a cost to that. You know, once you start giving people choices, your costs go up,” Shanahan said. The cost would be about $220,000 a year to pay for the four extra employees it would take to organize the staggering of food stamps.

Health and Welfare re-evaluates each food stamp case file every six months to make sure people still qualify for the program, Shanahan said.

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