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Food Stamps Need Skyrockets In Connecticut

2009 Statistics Show 8 Percent In State Use Them, Much Higher Number Than 2007


September 28, 2010

For 11 years, until this past April, Epifanio Barroa worked two jobs, days at a commercial laundry at $9 an hour, and nights as a package handler at about $17 an hour.

Then Barroa, 48, lost the day job, leaving him with almost no money after he pays rent and utilities.

Two months ago, he applied for food stamps for the first time in his life, and he now gets $123 a month to help buy groceries. "Without the help, it was really hard for me," the Hartford resident said. "I appreciate that."

Barroa is part of a growing crowd, data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau showed. The Great Recession pushed tens of thousands of Connecticut families and individuals such as Barroa to rely into food stamp assistance.

By 2009, 107,127 Connecticut households used food stamps a 44 percent increase from just two years earlier.

That's 8 percent of all households in the state, and covers nearly 300,000 people.

The recession's effects went far beyond the working class in the state, the data show. The proportion of households that earned between $75,000 and $100,000 fell from 14.1 percent to 13.3 percent. The midpoint of income for households stagnated, sitting at $67,034 in 2009.

Connecticut remains by far the richest state in the country as measured by per capita income, because our rich are very, very rich including 11 billionaires. But comparing the typical household, it's third, behind Maryland, at $69,272, and New Jersey, at $68,342. The national midpoint for household income in 2009 was $50,221.

It's not all bad news, however. Although it may seem at times that the state resembles a developing nation with its extreme wealth and vast hardship, the numbers don't bear that out. Connecticut has the third-lowest level of child poverty in the nation, behind only Maryland and New Hampshire.

And Connecticut in 2009 was one of the few states that didn't have a rise in the child poverty rate although the rate did rise in 2008.

Tuesday's Census data, based on a series of national surveys, showed far higher levels of poverty in Connecticut's cities 32 percent in Hartford, 27 percent in New Haven and 21 percent in Bridgeport but the rise in food stamp use was not limited to those cities.

"It's not a surprise to me," said Gloria McAdam, president and CEO of Foodshare, which runs food pantries at 300 sites in Hartford and Tolland counties. Between January 2009 and August 2010, Foodshare had a 30 percent increase in clients. At the same time, food donations were down by 2 percent, McAdam said.

Foodshare has trained volunteers to interview clients for food stamp eligibility because there isn't enough donated food for the charity to cover the surge in need, she said.

"I just heard today from Enfield Food Shelf; they're now serving 400 families a week, and they can't figure out how to do it," she said. The Enfield operation is considering limiting visits to once every two weeks.

More than three-quarters of households on food stamps have at least one adult who has worked in the past year. The average income for a food stamp household in 2009 was still less than $16,200, the Census data showed.

Part of the reason for the increase was that Connecticut raised the income limit for food stamp eligibility to 185 percent of the federal poverty level in July 2009, from 130 percent. For a family of three, $30,901 was the old income limit, and that went up to $42,346.

"It really helped with people who were working or recently unemployed," said Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!

McAdam said, "Not a week goes by that I don't hear somebody saying: 'I used to give to this program, and I never thought I'd be in line needing help.' "

That's like Nancy Frede, 59, of Wethersfield. She used to make $70,000 a year as an ad director at a small newspaper, but now works at the West Hartford Senior Center making $14 an hour 23 to 28 hours a week.

She started receiving $200 a month in food stamps in July. In the months before she received the benefit, and after her unemployment benefits ran out, she said: "I used money from my savings, or I ate at my boyfriend's."

But Frede recently was told her benefit will drop to $16 a month because of the amount she has earned since April.

"It made a big difference in my life," she said. "You can't buy much with $16 month," she said.

Taking home $250 a week isn't enough to cover her costs. "Not when I have to pay my mortgage, my health insurance, and I have to pay my home insurance. It's extremely frightening."

She had an interview Tuesday for a full-time job, though at far less than her old salary.

"I'm extremely grateful" for the government help, she said. "I also realize there's something here that's just not right. I used to be making $70,000 something's not right when I'm filling out applications for $16-an-hour jobs."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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