PLATTSBURGH — As the economy continues to struggle, more and more people across the nation are finding themselves on food stamps.
The North Country is no different.
“The economy is difficult, and it is hard for families, especially single parents with low wages,” Clinton County Social Services Commissioner Jay T. LePage said.
Nationally, about 44.7 million people received food-stamp benefits in 2011. There were about 28 million in 2004.
Statewide, usage has increased 19 percent from 2011 to this year with 645,967 cases.
The numbers are eyebrow-raising in the North Country as well.
In Clinton County, the number of food-stamp recipients has increased about 47 percent from 2004 to this year with about 11,600 people getting help.
In Essex County, recipients have increased 61 percent over the same time period, with the number of cases going up from 1,208 in 2004 to 1,915 cases in 2011.
There are often many individuals represented by one case, explained John P. O’Neill, commissioner of Essex County Department of Social Services.
In Franklin County, the number is up about 40 percent, with cases rising from 2,237 in 2004 to 3,688 so far in 2012, according to Commissioner Lesley Lyons.
With the struggling economy, many individuals find themselves either out of work or working at a low-wage job. With costs, especially gasoline, continuing to rise, many need food-stamp assistance to feed their families.
While the economy may be the leading cause of the increase in food-stamp recipients, there are other factors as well.
LePage explained that there is much more public awareness of the program, and the stigma of being on food stamps seems to have waned a bit.
“There are no more actual stamps. You get a benefit card, and that helps,” he said.
Applying for food stamps can be done online, making it easier for people to join the program.
The very name itself, “food stamps,” has also gone by the wayside as the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially changed the name of the program in 2008 to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.