Federal food stamps are now used by about 11 percent of Cecil County residents, up from about 10 percent of county residents just a few months ago, according to state data. The indicators show the impact of the recession is still growing in Cecil County, even as some economic forecasters project that the economy is improving.
Detailed statistical reports by the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees various welfare programs including food stamps, show a sharp increase in food stamp aid in Cecil County within the past year. There were 11,059 participants in the program in November, 2009, up from 8,241 participants in November, 2008. And just since this summer, participation in the food aid program has jumped by nearly 1,000 people in the county.
The food stamps program has long been viewed by many economic analysts as a leading indicator of financial hard times, since the federally-funded program has less restrictive rules for participation than cash welfare programs and many newly poor-but-proud families who shun traditional welfare will accept food stamps to feed their children. The program, formally renamed “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” or SNAP in 2008, provides debit cards that can be used to buy groceries, with the amount of aid dependent upon family size and income.
Statewide, food stamp participants numbered 527,011 in November, up from 491,262 just a few months ago, in July, 2009.
Although the numbers show rising numbers of Maryland families are getting food aid, a Baltimore court ruled several weeks ago that state social services agencies are not moving fast enough to meet the demand. The judge ordered the state to come up with an action plan to make sure that all applicants for food stamps receive a decision within 30 days, as required by federal regulations. (Read about the court decision here:)http://www.acy.org/articlenav.php?id=592
During the court case, advocates for the poor calculated that just 59 percent of eligible families in the state were actually receiving benefits in 2007. The state argued that it had made efforts to improve its outreach to eligible families and speed up processing of claims. But the court found otherwise and directed the state to comply with the 30-day processing rule by the end of this year.
Anecdotally, local Cecil County food pantries and churches have reported increased calls for assistance in these tough economic times. On the Upper Shore, other counties are also hard hit. As of June, 2009, food stamp participation amounted to 13 percent of the population in Caroline County; 10 percent in Kent County; 7 percent in Talbot County; and 5 percent in Queen Anne’s County.
Statewide, Cecil County’s food stamp rate tied for eighth highest, along with Kent County, Washington County and Worchester County. The highest food stamp rates, as of June, 2009, were Baltimore City (24 percent of the population); Dorchester County (20 percent); Somerset County (16 percent); Allegany County(15 percent); Wicomico County (14 percent); Caroline County (13 percent); and Garrett County (12 percent).
Seven of the counties on that list are in the First Congressional District. That means that incumbent Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat, and whichever Republican ends up running against him in this year’s November election, would be well advised to pay attention to what the food stamp numbers mean in political terms. People in the First District are hurting, and when they are hurting, they are usually angry. And an angry electorate is unpredictable.