November 24, 2009 in Nation/World

USDA: States struggle to administer food stamps

Wash. enrolls 76 percent of those eligible; Idaho only 50 percent
Associated Press
Eligible people receiving food stamps by state
Estimated participation rates of citizens eligible for food stamps by state.

Missouri — 100 percent
Maine — 91 percent
Michigan — 89 percent
Tennessee — 87 percent
Oregon — 87 percent
West Virginia — 85 percent
Kentucky — 83 percent
Illinois — 83 percent
District of Columbia — 78 percent
Arkansas — 77 percent
Pennsylvania — 76 percent
Washington — 76 percent
Louisiana — 74 percent
Iowa — 74 percent
South Carolina — 74 percent
Indiana — 74 percent
Vermont — 73 percent
Hawaii — 71 percent
Alaska — 70 percent
Ohio — 69 percent
Connecticut — 69 percent
Oklahoma — 69 percent
Delaware — 68 percent
New Mexico — 67 percent
Minnesota — 66 percent
New Hampshire — 66 percent
Virginia — 65 percent
Massachusetts — 65 percent
Alabama — 65 percent
Montana — 64 percent
Wisconsin — 64 percent
South Dakota — 64 percent
Nebraska — 64 percent
North Carolina — 63 percent
Georgia — 63 percent
North Dakota — 62 percent
New York — 61 percent
Arizona — 61 percent
Mississippi — 60 percent
Rhode Island — 60 percent
Maryland — 59 percent
New Jersey — 59 percent
Florida — 57 percent
Kansas — 57 percent
Texas — 55 percent
Colorado — 55 percent
Utah — 52 percent
Nevada — 52 percent
Idaho — 50 percent
California — 48 percent
Wyoming — 47 percent

Editor’s note: Northwestern states are highlighted in bold text.

WASHINGTON — With more Americans going hungry than ever before, the Agriculture Department is concerned that dozens of states aren’t adequately administering food stamp programs designed to provide food to low-income Americans.

Several states have run the program in a way that is “problematic and resulted in a more complex and difficult enrollment process,” the department said in a letter to state administrators dated Nov. 20 and obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. The letter, signed by Kevin Concannon, the department’s undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, says practices in those states “have not served our clients or our taxpayers well.”

The letter comes as the department released an annual report on food stamp enrollment and eligibility showing that just 18 states enrolled 70 percent or more of those eligible for food stamps in 2007, the time period covered by the report. Dozens of states failed to reach some of the country’s most needy citizens, the report stated.

Washington enrolls 76 percent of those eligible; Idaho enrolls only 50 percent, near the bottom of the list.

Food stamp programs “are essential to good nutrition and well-being, especially in tough economic times,” Concannon said in a statement commenting on the report.

Two states — Wyoming and California — had fewer than 50 percent of those eligible enrolled to receive food stamps. Many of the states that struggled were among the most populous, including New York, where 61 percent of eligible citizens participated; Florida, where 57 percent participated; and Texas, where 55 percent were enrolled.

The most successful state was Missouri, where nearly 100 percent of those eligible received government aid. Maine, Michigan, Tennessee and Oregon also had participation rates of 87 percent or higher.

Still, the department’s letter was a sharp rejoinder to states with high numbers of eligible citizens and low participation rates. It specifically criticized states where private firms, rather than state workers, processed enrollment.

“We believe that the outsourcing of key … processing duties to for-profit organizations is an unwise use of state and federal resources that undermines program accountability,” Concannon wrote.

The report came amid growing evidence that the economic slowdown has left more Americans hungry. Last week, the department’s annual report on food insecurity showed that in 2008 a higher percentage of Americans than ever went hungry or struggled to put food on the table.

© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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