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Use of food stamps, TANF down in ND

Though North Dakota’s population is growing, the use of social safety-net programs within the state has dropped.

There was a 9 percent decrease in the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from October 2012 to September 2013, said Carol Cartledge, director of the economic assistance policy division of the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

From November 2012 to October 2013, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program use — commonly referred to as food stamps — dropped 6 percent in North Dakota, said Arlene Dura, the state’s director of SNAP.

Qualifying ncome limits for SNAP are determined federally while TANF income requirements are set by the state.

“The benefit is at about 35 percent of the federal poverty level,” Cartledge said of TANF. “That would be at about $470 per month for a family of three.”

Less than 1 percent of North Dakotans utilize TANF. There is a 60-month lifetime limit on TANF benefits, and the program goes hand-in-hand with the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program.

“One of the goals of the TANF program is to assist people to find jobs so that they become self-sufficient,” Cartledge said. “That would correlate with the high opportunities in North Dakota — that that program would decline with the opportunities available.”

There were 54,000 individuals in North Dakota using food stamps as of October 2013. Benefits are based on the federal poverty levels, meaning a family of four would qualify with a net income of up to $1,963 per month, Dura said.

“The household income might be higher than that, but there are certain deductions that we allow,” Dura said. These include child care, some medical expenses and some housing costs.

SNAP recipients also include people on fixed incomes who may be receiving other types of assistance, like social security.

“About 19 percent of our caseload is elderly who are living on a fixed income or perhaps individuals who are disabled,” Dura said.

Western ND’s prices create problems

The high cost of living in western North Dakota has driven up wages, leaving some people who could benefit out of programs, said Irv Bren, director of Community Action in Dickinson.

“The costs have gone up a lot faster than the federal guidelines allow,” Bren said.

Community Action runs the Head Start and Early Head Start, weatherization and family planning programs, as well as provides some rent and deposit assistance for those with qualifying incomes.

While Alaska and Hawaii have their own poverty guidelines, the other 48 states and the District of Columbia have the same numbers, Bren said. Meaning North Dakota — the state with the lowest unemployment — has the same poverty line as Mississippi, a state that ranks 45th in unemployment and last for poverty.

“There you may have seen probably a 1 percent or 2 percent cost-of-living increase where here it’s probably 5 to 10 to 15 percent,” Bren said. “So the federal increases have not kept up with the local western North Dakota increases in cost of living.”

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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