Making “smart choices” in maximizing the effectiveness of the federal nutrition safety net is especially critical for state and local officials now as families and communities strive to move from a deep recession to a sustained economic recovery.
The federal nutrition programs not only feed hungry people and support family well-being, they also act as “economic stabilizers,” kicking in to serve more people during economic downturns such as the current one. The federal nutrition programs are important supports for those seeking work, as well as for those working at low wages in regular jobs or self-employment situations. The federal nutrition benefits available to growing numbers of needy people in a downturn not only cushion the blow for hard-hit families but also stimulate national and local economies. According to USDA research, for example, each one dollar in federal SNAP/Food Stamp benefits generates nearly twice that in economic activity.
However, approximately one in three people eligible for SNAP/Food Stamps goes unserved. Participation increases in free and reduced-price school meals have lagged behind increases in SNAP/Food Stamp participation during this recession. In some states, failures to adopt available options leaves SNAP/Food Stamp households with lower federal benefit allotments than if they resided in neighboring states. And many states are foregoing available opportunities – some of them actively encouraged by federal rules – to deliver services more efficiently and cost-effectively, compounding the stresses on caseworkers, customers and state budgets alike.
By utilizing the federal nutrition program effectively, states and cities will: