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Report: Hunger Hits Home in Small-Town Washington

PHOTO: A volunteer prepares food at the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant in Spokane. The food-assistance program helps clients supplement SNAP benefits that don't always cover food needs. Photo courtesy Northwest Harvest.
PHOTO: A volunteer prepares food at the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant in Spokane. The food-assistance program helps clients supplement SNAP benefits that don't always cover food needs. Photo courtesy Northwest Harvest.
August 11, 2014

SEATTLE - Hunger is often characterized as a big-city problem, but a new study shows that isn't the case based on who is receiving food stamp benefits, also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Center for Rural Affairs examined SNAP data for a five-year period ending in 2012. It found more than 14 percent of rural households receive food benefits, compared to less than 11 percent of urban households.

The difference doesn't surprise Christina Wong, public policy manager with the hunger-fighting group Northwest Harvest. She says sometimes, SNAP is the only option in remote areas.

"What makes it tougher for people is the lack of access to other sources for assistance," Wong said. "There isn't a food bank, or the nearest food bank is far away. And you take into consideration whether people have enough money to afford the gas to get to the food bank."

Northwest Harvest has found in rural areas, many of their clients work as seasonal farm laborers or their jobs don't pay well enough to meet basic needs. Statewide, 1.1 million people receive SNAP benefits, which average less than $130 per month but inject almost $1.7 billion into Washington's economy.

The report also says rural areas and small cities have higher percentages of households with seniors and children receiving food support. Jon Bailey, director of rural public policy programs with the Center for Rural Affairs, says it's a significant finding.

"SNAP is providing a way for those people and those households to meet their food needs, which is important because those two population groups are probably most at risk of hunger and food insecurity," he said.

According to Wong, one in four children in Washington lives in a household considered "food-insecure." And in rural areas, the report says one in nine households has a SNAP recipient who is either under age 18, or age 60 or older.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA