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Mass. has 3rd-highest food stamp growth in N.E.

While food-stamp usage has risen across the nation, Massachusetts landed as one of the top New England states with the highest growth in food-stamp usage, according to an article published in the Federal Reserve Bank’s fall issue of Communities & Banking magazine.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, also known as SNAP, provides food stamps. The federal program provides food resources for low-income families who meet other qualifying criteria, such as employment and personal resources.

“The incentive to work is strong, since SNAP benefits are only reduced by 30 cents for each $1 earned until the eligibility threshold is reached,” wrote Ben Senauer, a professor at the Univeristy of Minnesota in the report.

The food-stamp program in Massachusetts, however, is crucial for residents, he reported.

The budgetary cost of the program rose, along with participation, jumped from $30.4 billion in 2007 to $71.8 billion in 2011, Senauer wrote.

Massachusetts posted the third-highest food-stamp percentage growth rate in New England between 2010 and 2011.

The participation growth rate between 2007 and 2011 in Massachusetts was 86.4 percent, while the United States posted 69.9 percent.

Rhode Island, however, posted the largest increase, with a 135.7-percent growth rate, according to the article.

New Hampshire posted the second-largest increase with an 87.6-percent growth rate.

Vermont, Connecticut and Maine followed respectively in their growth rates.

Massachusetts landed in the middle of the six other New England states for total population participating in the food stamp program in 2010, with 11.3 percent of the population enrolled.

At that time, Massachusetts was below the national average, 13.1 percent.

Vermont topped the list in 2010 with 13.2 percent of the total population participating. Rhode Island was second and posted a 12.4 percent of their total population relying on food stamps.

“Rhode Island suffered one of the largest jumps in unemployment nationally, which explains the 135 percent-plus increase in SNAP participation,” the article stated.

In 2009, 93 percent of SNAP benefits went to household with incomes at or below the federal povery level, which is $22,356 annual for a family of four in the fiscal year 2012, according to the article.

More than 50 percent went to households in “deep poverty,” less than half of the poverty rate.

In Massachusetts, 10.3 percent of individuals were below the poverty level in 2009 and 7 percent of families were below the poverty line in 2009, according to a report by the U.S. National Census Bureau.

The official national poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, an increase from 14.3 percent in 2009 and the third consecutive annual increase in poverty rate, according to poverty highlights on the United States Census Bureau’s website.

“Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points, from 12.5 percent to 15.1 percent,” according to the website.

The increase in food stamps over the recent year is in response to the recent economic downturn, according to the article.

“Between [fiscal year] 2007 and [fiscal year] 2011, SNAP participation increased by more than 50 percent in every New England state,” the article stated.

Without SNAP benefits, which averaged about $134 monthly for every participant, many Americans would have been in a dire situation, according to the article.

The article also concluded that the food stamp program has become more critical to low-income residents of New England.

“Overall, SNAP benefits to New England households amounted to nearly $2.9 billion in FY 2011,” the article stated.

Senauer did not return requests for comment in time for press.

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