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Food Stamps

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The divide between urban and rural has always been present in some form, whether it’s in finance, manufacturing, culture and lifestyle, or social issues. But now that the United States Government has let a temporary increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps, expire on November 1, 2013, the gulf between urban and rural has grown even bigger.

Thanksgiving

One of Americans’ favorite holidays is just around the corner, but food stamps users are faced with a tough dilemma because of SNAP benefits cuts. The average reduction in monthly benefits is $29, or the price of a turkey and a few side dishes. Some families are electing to go without some of the extra dishes, while others look to streamline costs in other areas, like shoes or haircuts.

However, the biggest problem lies in rural areas where grocers- dealing with relatively low population numbers- have faced losses of 5-10%. Take the state of Illinois, the fourth most populated in the United States, only has one city (Chicago) with more than a million residents, with that one containing 65% of the state’s citizens and only occupying 8% of land space. Going further down the list, only eight cities crack six-digit populations. Illinois is also one state where 16% of residents use food stamps, a figure that’s a whole two percentage points above the national average.

Participation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released data showing that food stamps users are more likely to live in rural areas than in urban ones, increasing the divide between supply and demand. There are many complex reasons for this, but one is that job opportunities aren’t as varied or plentiful in rural areas as they are in urban ones. For example, New York City is not just the most populous city in the United States, but one of its boroughs is Manhattan, both the wealthiest and most densely populated city in the country. With a population of 8.3 million, there are just going to be more options in every area as compared to a rural city or town- and likely fewer food stamps users.

Doing the Math

At first glance, it may seem like an average cut of $29/month isn’t that big of a deal. And for most people, it’s not. That amount works out to a half-decent haircut with tip, a round of drinks with coworkers, half a tank of gas, or a pair of jeans. But when you’ve got more mouths to feed than just your own, the cuts start to dig a little deeper.

A recent column in Slate documented the story of one woman whose monthly food stamps allowance was cut from $203 to $130. With a daughter at home, the new amount resulted in 72 cents per meal, compared with $1.13 per meal before. Expenses like one three-course meal on the weekend, or meat, now don’t exist for her.

Although the economy is slowly righting itself, the cuts come at an awkward time for many families as they face the sting of less benefits at a time when they’re trying to find better jobs. The Catch-22 makes it hard for many SNAP users to get ahead, but there’s hope as things usually get worse before they get better.

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