By NYSSA RABINOWITZ
Capital News Service
LANSING – The number of Michigan residents on food assistance has continued to increased dramatically, rising to a monthly average of about 860,000 cases in the last 11 months from about 695,000 cases in a similar period a year earlier, according to the Department of Human Services (DHS).
About 42 percent of recipients are children, DHS reported.
The percentage of children receiving benefits is equal to or higher than the state average in 30 counties, including Allegan (46 percent), Lenawee (44 percent) and Ottawa (44 percent), the department reported.
The number “has never been higher for Michigan,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, director of Kids Count at the Michigan League for Human Services, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works on health and social welfare problems for low-income families.
Families that participate in the food stamps program receive money on a debit card to buy food, Zehnder-Merrell said, but the program was never designed to cover all the cost of food.
On average, the monthly benefit per person was about $101 and about $227 per household in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With lower wages and high unemployment, most families run out of money in two to three weeks, Zhender-Merrell said.
“Kids suffer tremendously because kids need to have their nutritional needs met during their growing-up years,” she said.
Oceana County has the highest percentage of child recipients in the state, at 49 percent. By contrast, Isabella County has the lowest, with 25 percent of recipients being children.
Peter Ruark, a senior policy analyst at the league, said, “We have to remember that food assistance is an economic stimulus for the state.”
The program brings federal money into the to be spent at local stores and helps those stores stay in business, he said.
As of June, Michigan ranked sixth nationally in the number of households participating in the program.
The Agricultural Department reports that 894,013 households in Michigan participate, which is about 23.6 percent of all households in the state. That’s an increase of almost 163,000 households from June 2009, when about 19.3 percent of households participated.
Oregon had the highest percentage of households participating at 28.7 percent and Wyoming had the lowest at 7.7 percent, federal figures show.
Ruark said food assistance cases in Michigan have more than doubled since 2000.
Part of that increase is due to Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s efforts to promote the program and encourage eligible residents to apply, he said.
Even with the number of cases rising, the percentage of child recipients dropped slightly from 43 percent August 2009 to 42 percent in August 2010.