Food stamps put Rhode Island town on monthly boom-and-bust cycle

Eli Saslow, Food stamps put Rhode Island town on monthly boom-and-bust cycle. Part 1 of a 6-part series in The Washington Post, beginning on 16 March 2013. Eli Saslow won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting “for his unsettling and nuanced reporting on the prevalence of food stamps in post-recession [United States], forcing readers to grapple with issues of poverty and dependency.”

Excerpts from stories:

Part One, 16 March 2013: The economy of Woonsocket [Rhode Island] was about to stir to life. Delivery trucks were moving down river roads, and stores were extending their hours. The bus company was warning riders to anticipate “heavy traffic.” A community bank, soon to experience a surge in deposits, was rolling a message across its electronic marquee on the night of Feb. 28: “Happy shopping! Enjoy the 1st.”…

At precisely one second after midnight, on March 1, Woonsocket would experience its monthly financial windfall — nearly $2 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Federal money would be electronically transferred to the broke residents of a nearly bankrupt town, where it would flow first into grocery stores and then on to food companies, employees and banks, beginning the monthly cycle that has helped Woonsocket survive….

Part Two, 24 April 2013: A record 47 million Americans now rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, available for people with annual incomes below about $15,000. The program grew during the economic collapse because 10 million more Americans dropped into poverty. It has continued to expand four years into the recovery because state governments and their partner organizations have become active promoters, creating official “SNAP outreach plans” and hiring hundreds of recruiters….

A decade ago, only about half of eligible Americans chose to sign up for food stamps. Now that number is 75 percent….

Only about 38 percent of eligible seniors choose to participate in the program, half the rate of the general population….

Part Three, 7 July 2013: More than 1 in 4 kids depend on the government for food…. Congress had tried to address [childhood hunger] mostly by spending a record $15 billion each year to feed 21 million low-income children in their schools, but that left out the summer, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to spend $400 million more on that. Governors came together to form a task force. Michelle Obama suggested items for a menu. Food banks opened thousands of summer cafes, and still only about 15 percent of eligible children received regular summer meals. So, earlier this year [2013] a food bank in Tennessee came up with a plan to reverse the model. Instead of relying on children to find their own transportation to summer meal sites, it would take food to children….