OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- The Oklahoma Department of Human Services continues to daily break the all-time record levels of participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called the food stamp program. In September, a net growth of more than 500 persons per day was added to existing record levels.
More than 11,000 persons were added in September bringing the end of the month total to 535,880 persons, about 15 percent of all Oklahomans and more than 25 percent of all children. The levels of participation are up more than 25 percent and almost 110,000 persons from September, 2008.
The program costs for September topped $75.8 million dollars for the first time ever.
Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Howard Hendrick said, “This is unprecedented growth and it shows that our friends, neighbors and family members are feeling the effects of the late arrival to Oklahoma of the nation’s economic crisis. The good news is that our staff continues to accurately determine the eligibility of record numbers of persons with the lowest error rate in our region and the lowest error rate in state history. We are also maintaining prompt and timely service. Other states have seen their error rates double and have simply not finished the work necessary to keep their citizens fed.
“Seventy years ago, the soup lines would have been enormous. Today, our friends and neighbors are being served promptly and professionally by an incredibly talented staff.”
Almost 4,000 retail grocery stores in the state, provided food for SNAP recipients. The use of electronic funds has saved millions in administrative costs and fraud.
State unemployment reports show 11,000 Oklahomans received unemployment insurance payments in August 2008 and about 66,000 received unemployment benefits in August 2009. That means even more Oklahomans may become eligible for SNAP benefits when their unemployment insurance benefits expire.
“We are fortunate to have the state and federal resources needed to help the children and families who need SNAP benefits to feed themselves,” said Hendrick. “Making the necessary investments in technology and staff training over several years has helped our OKDHS staff handle the increase. I am extremely proud of our staff. They have handled this increased work exceptionally well.
“Some people who have applied for SNAP don’t meet the minimum criteria for help. We can only certify for SNAP the persons who meet the eligibility criteria set by federal guidelines. That doesn’t mean they don’t need help. They simply don’t qualify for SNAP. Oklahoma is fortunate to have many community and faith-based organizations that are helping record numbers of families across the state. The demand on our food banks has been especially heavy for several months.”
Hendrick said the growing numbers of SNAP recipients equates to about 15 percent of all Oklahomans or 1 in 7 and more than 25 percent of all Oklahoma children. The average SNAP benefit is about $4.50 per person, per day.
“About 80 percent of the program participants are either children or persons with other income. Many recipients are simply the working poor,” Hendrick noted. “Healthy families and good paying jobs that produce globally competitive products and services are the keys to recovery. Hard work on the part of all of us is the fastest way out of this economic downturn.”
In April 2009, a 13.6 percent increase in food benefits came through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and were automatically added to a SNAP recipients’ benefits. SNAP benefits can only be used for food and can not be used to purchase cleaning products, paper goods, personal-care items, tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, household items, prepared foods, vitamins or medicine.