The Wall Street Journal has an interesting map on SNAP use by state, and how it has increased during this recession. Right now 10.9% of Connecticut´s population is receiving Food Stamps, a 7% increase from 2010. As it stands now, SNAP is one of the central components of our safety net, and its use doesn´t look like it will go down anytime soon.
The numbers could actually be even higher if SNAP participation rates were better. Only two thirds of households that are eligible for SNAP benefits actually apply for assistance in Connecticut, a rate that roughly tracks the nationwide average. Lack of information, a convoluted application process and poor access to state agencies contribute to this low adoption.
Part of our work at CAHS is to do outreach in the community promoting SNAP benefits, trying to help the navigate the chronically overburdened, always confusing DSS system. For the past three years we have seen the steady increase of families than need assistance first hand, so we have even expanded our application assistance and outreach efforts by developing and implementing EarnBenefits in the state in cooperation with Seedco and more than twenty community partners. Only in 2011 we have screened more than 5,000 individuals for benefits, filling the applications and referring more than 4,000 to DSS and other state agencies to get the help they need.
Using community partners is a central part of our efforts for one very important reason: getting to hard to reach populations to improve the SNAP participation rate. Local non profits and municipal agencies can reach to groups that either are reluctant to go to a DSS office in a very effective manner. Our focus with EarnBenefits has been working to make access a priority, not just for SNAP, but for other state benefits as well.
You can learn more about the EarnBenefits program and our community partners here. We are currently expanding our network to the Hartford region, so stay tunned for updates.