ROCKINGHAM — Food stamp use has steadily risen in Richmond County, but a dip in the number of recipients this year could be a sign of an economy on the rebound.
County Department of Social Services Director Tammy Schrenker said 13,620 people and 6,757 households received benefits under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in April 2014. That’s 754 fewer people receiving food stamps this year than last.
A full 14,374 individuals and 6,637 county households received SNAP benefits in March 2013, DSS figures show. That’s up from 13,541 individuals and 6,437 households in March 2012.
Richmond County’s drop mirrors a statewide trend. Throughout North Carolina, numbers increased until this April, when the total number of households receiving food and nutrition services leveled off at 795,461. More than 1.6 million North Carolina residents receive benefits under SNAP — the formal name for the federal food stamp program.
Places like Richmond County, which are located away from larger populated cities, tend to have a higher percentage of the population receiving SNAP benefits, officials said. That’s because incomes are generally lower in non-metropolitan counties.
The inflation-adjusted median household income in Richmond County in 2011 was $34,108, compared to the North Carolina median of $45,600. Nationally, median household income was $52,306 in 2011.
In 2011, residents of Richmond County received a combined $19,907,445 in SNAP benefits. Richmond County residents saw $1,656,650 in benefits in April 2014 alone while the total amount of benefits for the entire state was $196,772,280.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that each $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in spending.
SNAP benefits end back up in the economy quickly. Participants spend nearly all their food stamps within one month of receipt, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire Carsey Institute.
While some food stamp recipients may be obtaining the benefits illegally, Schrenker said the figures represent a lot of legitimate need.
“There will always be individuals who take advantage of the system, any system,” she said. “There are also many individuals who truly need the services we offer. We have a fraud investigator, and we do investigate reports of those suspected of abusing the system.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-997-3111, ext. 15.