The use of food stamps in Cass County increased during the recession, assisting families in stretching their food dollars, contributing to local spending and helping spark a national debate about the future of the federal nutrition program. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies, says according to the U-S Dept. of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services, the proportion of Cass County residents receiving food stamps hit 14.2 percent in 2011. That’s an increase of 5.5 percentage points since 2007, the year the recession started.
Across Iowa, 13.1 percent of residents in 2011 received support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as the food stamp program is officially known. Nationally, 14.8 percent of the population receives SNAP benefits. Places like Cass County, which are located outside metropolitan areas, tend to have a higher percentage of the population receiving SNAP benefits. That’s because incomes are generally lower in nonmetropolitan counties.
The inflation-adjusted median household income in Cass County in 2011 was $42,805, compared to the Iowa median of $51,314 and the national median of $52,306 (in 2013 dollars). Food stamps may play a larger role in the local economy in rural areas and small towns, according to federal data. In Cass County SNAP benefits are one-tenth (.1) percent of personal income. Nationally, the figure is 0.6 percent. In 2011, residents of Cass County received a combined $2,551,998 in SNAP benefits. The USDA reports that each $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in spending.