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ND food stamp usage down

BISMARCK (AP) -- The number of North Dakotans using food stamps to buy groceries dropped 2 percent in the last month of fiscal 2011, while the state's population swelled to an all-time high spurred by a hardy economy.

Federal Agriculture Department figures show 60,011 people received food assistance in September last year, down from 61,229 in September 2010.

Nationally, the number of people using food stamps in September 2011 jumped 7.8 percent to 46.2 million, or nearly 15 percent of the U.S.


The U.S. Census Bureau's most recent count shows North Dakota's population at 683,932, an increase of more than 11,300 in the past year and eclipsing the state's previous population record set in 1930. North Dakota's economic health fueled by its booming oil patch has attracted more than 50,000 new residents in the past few years, after experiencing decades of population decline.

The state's unemployment rate of 3.4 percent is the nation's lowest.

Arlene Dura, the director of the state's food assistance program, said the decrease in the number of people using food stamps is a "reflection that things are going well here in North Dakota.

"Anytime people are in a position to take care of basic needs, that's good," Dura said. "And food is a basic need."

Besides North Dakota, Illinois and Wyoming also showed a drop in the number of people using food stamps, federal Agriculture Department records show. Seventeen states showed increases of 10 percent or more in food stamp usage, led by New Jersey's 33 percent jump.

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, paid out nearly $96 million to North Dakotans in fiscal 2011, up from $95 million for the same period in 2010.

North Dakotans enrolled in the program received an average of $131.25 monthly in 2011, compared with the national average of $134, the USDA said.

Congress adopted the Federal Food Stamp Act in 1964 to help needy people buy groceries. The state Department of Human Services heads the program in North Dakota.

Debit-style electronic benefits transfer cards replaced paper food stamps in 1997 in North Dakota. The swipe cards helped erase the stigma associated with paper food stamps at grocery stores, officials say.

A family of four in North Dakota can apply for food stamp aid with a gross income of less than $2,422 per month. The qualifying monthly income limit for a one person household is $1,180, the agency said.

Human Services Department spokeswoman Heather Steffl said about 42 percent of the households that get assistance have earned income.

The USDA estimates that nearly a quarter of North Dakotans eligible to receive food stamps forego them, Steffl said.