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Food assistance numbers increasing in ND

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local Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Officials say the number of North Dakotans getting assistance for groceries is growing, but the case load growth is less than other states.

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In Stark County, January statistics show 994 households and 1,930 individuals were using the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, which totaled $252,584; a jump from last year's numbers of 868 households and 1,664 individuals totaling $188,150, according to North Dakota Department of Human Services information.

"Lately it has been increasing," said Marcy Decker, supervisor of the eligibility unit with Stark County Social Services. "It used to be that in the spring and summer of the year our numbers would go down, because of summer employment and people that were unemployed over the winter months for their seasonal jobs, then they would return to work in the spring and summers and our numbers would drop and pick up again in the fall."

Decker said a rise and then drop in numbers of people utilizing food assistance hasn't been occurring as of late.

"It's been staying pretty constant," Decker said.

Other counties have been following suit. For instance, according to January information, Hettinger had 63 households with 137 individuals participating in the program, a total of $16,407, a jump from last year's January data of 49 households and 101 individuals and a total of $9,664.

The reasoning for the increase in issuance amounts may be due to the economy as well as an increase in benefits, said Heather Steffl, public information officer for NDDH.

"The case load is increasing," Steffl said. "One of the bright spots is, while we've seen growth and we want people that need the program to know about the program and use the program, while we've seen growth in North Dakota, our growth (number of cases) has been quite a bit less than other states."

Angela Caulk started using the program when she moved to Dickinson in October.

"It's been nice not having to worry about spending paychecks on food," she said. "Being able to kind of have a set budget for it (food)."

Though Caulk doesn't anticipate she'll use the program much longer, she said it helped defray the cost of bills and other expenses right after her move.

About 45 percent of the people receiving SNAP benefits in North Dakota are children or younger than age 18, and about 16.5 percent of North Dakota's SNAP cases, not individual clients, include an elderly person, which is defined as age 60 or older, Steffl said in an e-mail.

Anyone who wishes to apply for SNAP can do so at their county social services office, Steffl said.

County social service workers will go through paperwork and will need to see items such as pay stubs, rent or mortgage payments, utility bills and other items, according to NDDH information.

Assistance through the program is credited to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards -- similar to a debit card -- on a monthly basis.

Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show North Dakota had an average of 53,070 people per month receiving food assistance in 2009. That's up from 48,412 people in 2008, and 45,122 in 2007.

Officials say 8.2 percent of North Dakotans get food assistance monthly, compared with 5.8 percent in fiscal 2002. Nationally, about 11 percent of the population receives assistance through the program each month.

On the Web: www.nd.gov/dhs/services/financialhelp/foodstamps.html. For a calculator to see if you qualify, go to: www.ndhealth.gov/dhs/foodstampcalculator.asp.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story

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