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Minnesota’s new welfare-fraud law takes effect, food-stamp use rises

Grocery shopping
REUTERS/Jim Young
New food-aid regulations are going into effect as more Minnesotans than ever are using food stamps to cover basic nutritional needs.

A welfare-fraud prevention measure goes into effect this week at a time the Minnesota Department of Human Services characterizes the numbers of food stamp users as at “historic highs’’ here and around the nation.   

Total users in the state have nearly doubled since 2006 with the fastest growing group being hungry children. Their numbers increased by 150 percent since December 2006. Almost half of the caseload is adults.

Nearly 546,000 Minnesotans use the food aid program commonly referred to as food stamps but officially called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) at the federal level, according to an annual report of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

SNAP-eligible People: December 2006 to December 2011

Nearly 546,000 Minnesotans use the food aid program commonly referred to as food
Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services
Nearly 546,000 Minnesotans use the food aid program commonly referred to as food stamps but officially called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) at the federal level.

Now, due to a measure passed by the Minnesota Legislature, the name of the head of the household will be printed on the plastic cards that give users access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (often referred to as food stamps) as well as to cash benefits administered through such programs as General Assistance and the Minnesota Family Investment Program.

In addition, the Legislature also required the cards include this warning: “It is unlawful to use this card to purchase tobacco products or alcoholic beverages.’’ 

Previously, no name had been printed on the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, which operates like a debit card with food purchases. An additional adult may, however, be issued an EBT card for food benefits only, the Minnesota Department of Human Services advises.   

Race/Ethnicity of SNAP-eligible  Adults
Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services
Race/Ethnicity of SNAP-eligible Adults

Though SNAP-eligible adults increased by 123 percent, the racial and ethnic composition was unchanged with about 60 percent white people, 25 percent blacks, 7 percent Asian and Hispanics and American Indians at 4 percent each.  

Though calling the economy the “underlying reason” for the increase, the report also catalogs a waiver that allows longer usage of the program to Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents.  

Numbers of people eligible for the program increased by 30 percent between December 2008 and 2009, by 17 percent between December 2009 and 2011 and 11 percent between December 2010 and 2011. 

Age of SNAP-eligible Adults
Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services
Age of SNAP-eligible Adults

In another demographic change, the proportion of persons 23 to 29 has increased 3 percentage points and those ages 30 to 39 have risen by 4 percentage points. There are fewer users age 65 and older.

The report, finished in August and posted online in September of this year, reflects numbers of users in December 2011. You’ll find it here and titled “Characteristics of People and Cases on the supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program December 2011.’’

As for fraud, the department of human services says its fraud-prevention investigators in fiscal year 2011 investigated 6,900 cases of alleged fraud and stopped or reduced benefits in 47 percent of those cases.

Republicans, including Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud,  had argued during the last legislative session that “welfare reform” measures were  “intended to tighten up” welfare programs. “Minnesotans want to help the people truly in need,’’ Gottwalt told me last winter.

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Comments (6)

Question

"Numbers of people eligible for the program increased by 30 percent between December 2008 and 2009, by 17 percent between December 2009 and 2011 and 11 percent between December 2010 and 2011."

How much of the increase is attributable to the loosening of the eligibility rules themselves, as opposed to the bad economy or the lengthening of allowable welfare dependence?

Who benefits from food stamps.

I marvel,that folks don't see who really benefits from food stamps. Yes, poor folks get food, but the cash goes to the grocer, who sends some to the supplier, who sends some to the farmer. That's why food stamps or SNAP,is a program of the U.S. department of Agriculture. It's really a farm subsidy bill!

Perhaps that large increase

Perhaps that large increase in people needing food stamps - as well as using a local food bank - are Republicans.

They know that if they seek out and gain work or a better job at a higher wage, their income tax rate would go from 0% to 15%.

We all know how Republicans hate to pay taxes.

(It shouldn't be too long now before start PACs to remind voters about Mr. Romney's offshore banking and tax avoidance schemes.)

What we need to do

Is curb and eliminate welfare for corporations and businesses such as ending subsidies, a form of socialism.

Food stamp usage increase no surprise

For the last several years, there have been many concerted efforts by national and local nonprofits that serve the elderly to increase their food stamp usage. (So the fact that food stamp usage has risen did not surprise me.) This elderly group, even though eminently qualified by income standards, have historically under-utilized food stamps. The elderly that I saw when I worked for Store To Door, a local nonprofit that managed grocery shopping and delivery to home-bound seniors, were very old, socially isolated, had little to no family still alive, and were, in essence, going hungry and eating nutritionally poor food (cheap carb calories) to stretch their pennies. Even the minimum $14 per month food stamp benefit was enough to add much needed calories and nutrition to their diet. We should be happy that they're getting the food they need.

Amen

Amd keeping as many as possible in their own homes as long as feasible.