SNAP fuels local economy

Published 6:57 am Monday, August 4, 2014

It’s a way of life that local citizens across the Roanoke-Chowan area find themselves facing, perhaps through no fault of their own.

The use of food stamps in Bertie, Gates, Hertford and Northampton counties increased during the recession as families, with parents either out of work or forced to find alternate employment, looked for means to stretch their food dollars.

But, on the other hand, the influx of those federal dollars via food stamps helps to support local businesses.

Across the board, the proportion of residents receiving food stamps increased dramatically during the height of the recession (2007-2012), according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services.

Bertie County had the largest increase locally in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, a 7.5 percent hike. By the end of 2012, 29.2 percent of Bertie’s population received SNAP, as compared to 21.5 percent in 2007. Seven years earlier (2000), only 16.9 percent of Northampton’s population received such benefits.

Northampton’s increase was a close second, a 7.4 percent hike to 29.7 as compared to 22.3 percent in 2007. In 2000, 16.7 percent of Northampton’s population received SNAP.

Hertford County saw a 6.6 percent increase to 26.0 percent while Gates witnessed a 5.6 percent hike to 15.8 percent.

Across North Carolina, 17.1 percent of residents in 2012 received support from SNAP. Nationally, that number stands at 14.8 percent.

Putting a dollar amount with those increases translates into $9,748,133 during 2012 for Hertford County residents receiving SNAP; $9,466,419 in Northampton; $8,358,206 in Bertie; and $2,756,033 in Gates. Those figures were nearly double the money funneled into each county through SNAP in 2007 and three times higher than in 2000.

The USDA reports that each $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in spending.

Business owners know they have to stock the shelves to prepare for more business when SNAP benefits hit the streets, said David Procter with the Rural Grocery Initiative. And it’s not just the mom-and-pop stores that see a bump from food-stamp spending in small towns and rural areas. Walmart reported in a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing that a decrease in SNAP benefits could impact the retail giant’s bottom line.

This summer, Congress agreed to trim about $8 billion from SNAP over the next decade. Backers of the cuts said the program had expanded too much in recent years and was creating too much reliance on government assistance. SNAP expenditures increased 135 percent between 2007 and 2012.

(Editor’s note: Data for this article came from USDA Food and Nutrition Services, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census. The data was compiled and analyzed by Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., associate Extension professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Funding for this report came from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Daily Yonder ( is an independent rural news site published by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies.)

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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