WASHINGTON – The number of food-stamp recipients in Maryland rose by 15.1 percent over the last three years, bouncing back from a sharp drop that came in the late 1990s as the state aggressively reduced its welfare rolls.
The state numbers mirrored a national increase in food stamps that came as a souring economy combined with an effort by welfare officials to let former welfare recipients and the working poor know that they could still get food aid.
A report released Wednesday by the Food Research and Action Center said that the number of food-stamp recipients nationwide rose by 24.1 percent over the same three-year period.
The center’s Randy Rosso said that while the “emphasis in welfare is getting people get off the rolls,” states have realized they have to take a different approach with food stamps.
That was the case in Maryland, where many people who still qualified for food stamps stopped getting them after they came off welfare, while others just did not know they qualified in the first place.
“When people were able to come off the rolls, they decided they wanted to cut off all ties with public assistance,” said Elyn Garrett Jones, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources. “We have done a lot to let people know that they can still use the assistance.”
Even though the numbers have been rising, there is still room for improvement. Just 62 percent of eligible individuals nationwide got food stamps in 2001. In working families, just 52 percent of eligible individuals were collecting food stamps in that year.
Jones said it is important for the state to remove the stigma of the food-stamp program and to make people aware of the support services available “so they could make use of them.”
But the economy has been another major factor. The report said the economy simply is not providing enough year-round, full-time jobs with wages high enough to support a family.
“The economy has been pretty tough,” Rosso said.
Wages and benefits for workers in the bottom parts of the job market are lower than a generation ago, the report said. For that reason, it said individuals and families — both unemployed people and the working poor — need a set of key public supports.
It is because of this that many low-income families in Maryland are turning to food stamps, said Catholic Charities spokeswoman Lynda Meade.
She said that although food stamp usage was down in the state over the past few years, many families are finding them necessary to make ends meet.
“More people are realizing that even though they’re working, they can’t eat without food stamps,” Meade said.
“Certainly, in this day and age, this is a support families can take advantage of,” she said. “It helps those families that are on the threshold.”
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