Getting hungry, getting help

More Minnesotans are using food shelves and food stamps, according to a series of reports this weekend. The Twin Cities Daily Planet reports that food shelf use is up across Minnesota, and particularly in the Twin Cities:

During the first six months of 2009, visits to food shelves across Minnesota increased 26 percent compared to the same time period in 2008. In the metro area, food shelf visits increased even more, by 43 percent, according to data compiled by Hunger Solutions.

And seniors … are part of another eye-opening statistic: This year has seen a 53 percent increase in people age 60 or older using Minnesota’s food shelves…

Food shelves generally provide once-a-month assistance, with a package of food that should last for three to five days. Food stamps — or Food Support, as the program now is known officially — provide some assistance each month for purchasing food. The Star Tribune reports on the growing number of food stamp applicants:

The state added 89,930 food stamp recipients between June 2007 and June 2009, and the numbers have continued to rise sharply, officials said.

Hennepin and Ramsey counties saw their food stamp rolls grow by nearly 30,000 participants from June 2007 to June 2009.

The new food stamp applicants are often people who previously resisted asking for help. Many considered food stamps, or any government help, as a sign of personal irresponsibility. Now they have no choice. Ini Agustine explained:

“The thing I realized is that if you are respectable, you will starve yourself before asking the government for help. But you won’t starve your child.”

Even though they may have lost jobs, and may have no money to live on, some don’t qualify because they have assets:

The number of new food-stamp applicants is “staggering,” said Bill Brumfield, Hennepin County’s area director of human services and public health. The food-stamp program was “not designed for this kind of event — a middle class loss of jobs. A lot of these people have assets [that exclude them from receiving support], but you can’t turn that asset into cash and food.”
What’s happened, Hennepin County spokeswoman LuAnn Schmaus explained, is that the “solidly middle class have fallen into the safety net.”

Nationally, one in eight people use food stamps, and one in four children benefits from food stamps. In Minnesota, the figures are lower, with food stamps used by only one person in 14. In part, that’s due to Minnesota’s better economic position, but the relatively low numbers also signal a problem: Minnesota signs up only about two-thirds of those eligible to use food stamps. That means a loss both for the eligible families and for the state, reports the Pioneer Press, because the food stamp program pumps money into the state’s economy, currenlt about $43 million a year in federal funds.

The Pioneer Press reports that the fastest growing area of need is in the suburbs.

Since 2000, the number of people on Food Support has grown by 50 percent in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. In the other five metro counties, it has shot up 167 percent.

And the picture is the same in the exurbs and other population centers. In Dodge County, near Rochester, the number of people on Food Support is up 194 percent. In Wright County northwest of Minneapolis, it’s up 196 percent. And in Sherburne County, which includes part of St. Cloud, it’s up 266 percent.

In one more sign of the times, the Star Tribune reports that a walk-in bankruptcy clinic has become a permanent institution, due to the rising need.

Bankruptcy filings in the state have surpassed levels last seen in 2004, the year before the law was overhauled in an attempt to reduce bankruptcy numbers. Filings are up 30.6 percent over last year, with 19,380 personal bankruptcies filed in Minnesota through November. Close to 1.3 million people have filed nationwide, an increase of 32.1 percent from 2008, according to the National Bankruptcy Research Center.

The clinic is staffed by volunteer attorneys and offers a 15-minute consultation.

When: Held certain Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Appointments last 15 minutes and are on a walk-in basis. For a calendar, visit: tinyurl.com/ybw8r2h.

Where: Federal courthouses in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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