Big Island food stamp use down

  • An example of a Hawaii EBT Card is seen. The number of food stamp recipients on Hawaii Island dropped slightly in 2017, continuing an ongoing trend for the federal program, according to data from the Hawaii Department of Human Services. While 37,964 people in on the Big Island benefited from the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program by the end of November 2016, only 37,349 did so by the same time in 2017.. (HOLLYN JOHNSON, file/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

HILO — The number of food stamp recipients on Hawaii Island dropped slightly in 2017, continuing an ongoing trend for the federal program.

While 37,964 people in on the Big Island benefited from the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program — often referred to as food stamps — by the end of November 2016, only 37,349 did so by the same time in 2017, according to data from the Hawaii Department of Human Services.

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The decline reflects an ongoing trend in SNAP participation since 2015. That year, an average of nearly 40,000 people per month benefited from SNAP on the island.

According to the data, $9,113,778 in benefits was distributed to island residents in 2017, with each participant receiving, on average, $244.02 per person. This marks an increase from 2016, when beneficiaries received an average of $237.44 per person, for a total cost of $9,014,257.

Statewide, total SNAP participants dropped from 148,848 in 2016, to 142,616 in 2017.

Since 2016, the number of Hawaii Island households benefiting from SNAP has decreased from 18,236 to 18,010. Meanwhile, the average household size on food stamps has only nominally increased, from 2.05 people in 2016 to 2.07 people in 2017.

Ke‘opu Reelitz, public information officer for the Department of Human Services, said the continuing decrease in SNAP participants is a result of changing economic and demographic trends statewide. Hawaii’s unemployment rate has continued to decrease since 2009, while the inflation rate has plateaued somewhat.

At the same time, the drop in participation is partially the cause of the increase in benefit amounts — with fewer people in the program, those that remain can claim greater benefits. However, Reelitz also pointed to the 2014 expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which allocated $19.9 billion to the nation’s food stamp program as a factor for fewer food stamp benefits issued in total statewide — over $33 million in 2017 compared to $34 million in 2016.

National SNAP data for the 2017 fiscal year was not available, although a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in 2017 revealed that 12 percent of Hawaii’s residents were involved in SNAP in 2016, slightly less than the national average of 14 percent. However, while fewer state families with children are involved in the program than the national average — 64 percent vs. the nation’s 68 percent — 53 percent of participants are in working families, compared to the national average of 44 percent.

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In total, SNAP issued over $66 billion in benefits in 2016. Meanwhile, a budget resolution passed in October will cut $193 billion from the program over the next 10 years, a 25 percent reduction. By comparison, the U.S. Military budget for 2018 exceeds $800 billion.

Emaili Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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