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Different reasons drive South's food stamp use
MISSISSIPPI STATE – The myth that a single type of person uses food stamps was examined in a recent Southern Rural Development Center study that impacts how to best reach those in need of food assistance.
The report, “One-size doesn’t fit all: Different reasons drive food stamp use in areas across the South,” looks at certain characteristics of food stamp users in the Borderland in Texas, the Appalachia region in West Virginia, the Delta in Mississippi and Louisiana, and the Black Belt in Alabama.
The SRDC is housed at Mississippi State University. This research was performed by Tim Slack and Candice Myers of Louisiana State University. They looked at the extent to which regional and local conditions uniquely affect SNAP use.
The study found that there is not a single set of demographics that defines a person as a typical user of what has formerly been known as food stamps and is now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The Appalachia region reports the highest percentage of SNAP use, at nearly 22 percent. In this region, the majority of recipients are white female heads of households.
In the Borderland, higher numbers of single-mother households and nonworking-age populations are enrolled in SNAP.
In the Delta, greater numbers of children and elderly take part in SNAP. Also in the Delta, fewer adults without a high school diploma are a part of SNAP compared to other areas of the country.
In the Black Belt, SNAP use is linked most often to nonworking-age individuals and those living in racially segregated areas than in other parts of the country.
“These varied and sometimes counterintuitive results make one thing abundantly clear: place matters,” the study says. “The South, and those areas in particular with high poverty, faces unique challenges in terms of economic hardship generally, and the need for food assistance specifically.
“This research shows that when it comes to SNAP use, different factors are more salient depending on the region in question. One-size-fits-all assumptions about the larger economic and cultural characteristics at play across the social landscape will therefore likely miss the mark,” the report found.
Bo Beaulieu, SRDC director, said the research findings can help social workers better serve the needs of a diverse population.
“When we know who our target population is, we can look at ways to reach out to them effectively,” Beaulieu said. “This information allows those in social work to strengthen outreach educational programs to individuals who may qualify for SNAP but for some reason have not enrolled.”
Beaulieu said in times of economic challenge, it becomes even more important for organizations to be strategic in targeting programs to needy populations.
“This type of study helps fine-tune the delivery of food assistance programs to key areas of the South that are in greatest need of these types of programs,” Beaulieu said.
The complete study can be found online at http://srdc.msstate.edu/ridge/files/fan_series/onesize_doesnt_fit_all.pdf.