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Post by Relentless » July 7th, 2015, 6:03 am

Suburbia for some has become a dead end as the number of families relying on food stamps continues to increase.

Hillary Hunnings/Staff
Posted Monday, July 6, 2015 11:08 am

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. – Beneath selfsame shrubs, slick SUVs and sprawling shops lies a shrouded reality, one rooted in the 2008 Great Recession: a suburban SNAP surge.

According to the Brookings Institution, the number of suburban SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp), households increased 116 percent from 2007 at the start of the recession to 2012. In the United States’ largest cities, the growth rate was 79 percent.

Sun Belt metro locations hit hard by the housing market collapse and recession saw sharp increases in SNAP receipt, said Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program fellow Elizabeth Kneebone.

In metro Atlanta, food stamp receipt more than doubled, upsetting any utopian suburban white picket fence image. Forsyth County was not immune.

“The metro Atlanta area had a huge increase,” said Forsyth County Division of Family and Children Services Director Margaret Dawe. “That includes Forsyth County. The increase starting in late 2008 continued for several years.”

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Forsyth County American Community Survey estimates show a significant increase in the number of Forsyth County households with Supplemental Security Income, cash public assistance income or SNAP.

In 2007, the total was 1,755. It rose slightly in 2008 to 1,795. Then it jumped to 3,104 by 2009.

Many hit by the recession were new to SNAP and unfamiliar with the application process.

“That included people that never had access to food stamps in the past,” Dawe said. “They may have had a good job and lost the job. All of a sudden, they needed this kind of help.”

The number of Forsyth County households with SSI, cash public assistance income or food stamps continued to rise, reaching its height at 5,919 in 2011. A decrease of nearly 500 in 2012 was quickly followed by a rise in 2013 to 5,802.

In a February 2015 profile of SNAP households in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which includes much of Forsyth County, the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows 70.6 percent of the district’s SNAP households have children under 18 years of age. A total of 17.3 percent have one or more people 60 years and over.

In Forsyth County alone, families with children are the face of SNAP receipt.

“Children from 0 to 18 make up a pretty good chunk – 65 and over is the smallest,” said Dawe. “The age group from 22 to 34 is higher than the age group from 35 to 44.

“Then it jumps up a little bit from ages 45 to 64,” she said. “So there are many families with children when you look at this.”

SNAP not only helps provide nutritional meals for children, but also may help reduce Child Protective Services cases, Dawe said.

“It may have a direct benefit in the reduction of our CPS cases, because when families struggle, those challenges sometimes will push families into the realm of child maltreatment,” said Dawe.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen, but when families have lots of challenges, whether they don’t have a job or they’re homeless or whether they don’t have food, if they also have children to take care of, that also adds many more complications,” she said.

Efficiency is key, and Dawe said the division is constantly trying to improve.

“The bottom line is they want their application processed timely and the benefits delivered to them if they are eligible for them,” said Dawe.

“Any improvements could maybe be done on the customer service side,” she said. “We do strive to get that to them, but we always look for ways to do that in a more efficient manner.”

The SNAP household profile also notes the program’s local economic multiplier effect. Every dollar in new SNAP benefits results in $1.80 in total economic activity.

“Keep in mind, food stamps, SNAP, not only directly affects poverty households, it also puts money in the community,” Dawe said. “Providers, grocery stores accept SNAP benefits.

“It’s helped many clients,” she said. “We really saw that when the economy took the downturn in 2008, because the numbers increased dramatically.”

According to U.S. Census data from 2009 to 2013, 7.6 percent in Forsyth lived below the poverty level.

While the recession was a pivotal event contributing to SNAP receipt increase, other factors also played a role, one being population growth.

Forsyth is Georgia’s second fastest-growing county, according to Census data.

In 2010, Forsyth’s population estimate was 175,511. It grew to 204,302 by 2014.

FH 7-8-15

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