URI to help put food stamps on the table
30 percent of those eligible for program dont participate
KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 10, 2002 -- Nearly 30 percent of Rhode Islanders eligible for food stamps are not taking advantage of them, according to a state Department of Human Services estimate. That translates into approximately 20,000 state residents who are either not eating as well as they could or who are experiencing hunger. Many of those missing out are elderly or working poor families.
Rhode Islands use of stamps reflects a national trend. Since the mid-1990s, the number of people participating in the federal Food Stamp Program has been declining. While many attribute the decline to an improved economy and welfare reform, most advocates, as well as the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, say the 30 percent decline far exceeds the modest 10 percent decline in poverty. And, in fact, poverty among particular groups, including children, is on the rise in Rhode Island.
The University of Rhode Islands Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America is working with the Dept. of Human Services to reverse the trend and put food on the plates of those who need it. Through a collaborative initiative, the hunger center was able to help the human services agency develop a statewide Food Stamp Outreach plan and secure $151,000 of federal funding matched by third-party contributions this year. (The federal funds are channeled through the Department of Human Services, which contracted the center.) While the grant is given on a year-to-year basis, the center will resubmit its request with the expectation of having it renewed each year for the next two years.
The goal of the outreach plan is to develop a system of strategies that will increase awareness, reduce the stigma, identify and target those who arent participating and reduce the obstacles and barriers for those who are eligible. In the next few months, staff at the hunger center will:
- Evaluate the results of focus groups conducted among low-income groups to verify and identify the existing obstacles to participation.
- Evaluate a simplified pre-screening questionnaire that will tell people whether they are eligible for stamps without going through a lengthy and somewhat difficult process. The screening process will be piloted at selected sites.
- Assist and train volunteers and paid staff at 200 emergency food sites to provide assistance for eligible non-participating individuals.
- Provide assistance and evaluation of the recently revised food stamp application currently being tested throughout the state.
Throughout the duration of the project, URI will collaborate with the Rhode Island Community Food Banks network of more than 200 emergency food providers, beginning in areas that have the highest level of poverty. In addition, an advertising campaign "Check out the buying power of food stamps for healthy eating, healthy families and a healthy economy" will soon be launched. As part of the campaign, bus stop shelters will advertise food stamp availibility.
"The Food Stamp Program is the first line of defense in the battle against hunger for low-income families," said Kathleen Gorman, director of URIs center. "The program increases a familys ability to purchase more food as well as improve the nutritional benefits of their familys diet. And since it is a federally funded program, by increasing Food Stamp participation, Rhode Island will also benefit by bringing in millions of dollars annually into the local economy."
There are 35,000 families in Rhode Island living on less than $15,000 annually, according to Gorman. The current minimum wage of $6.15 per hour leaves a family of three making $11,752 annually, about 10 percent below the poverty level. Mathematica Policy Research estimates that for every 100 people leaving welfare, on average about 55 of them are working. Of those, one-third receives food stamps, one-third is no longer eligible, and one-third is eligible for stamps but not getting them.
"We want to change that," Gorman says.
For Information: Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116