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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Minnesota food stamp demand remains high

  • Even though the state's economy is recovering, more than 500,000 Minnesotans rely on food stamps — more than double the number 10 years ago.
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  • Even though the state's economy is recovering, more than 500,000 Minnesotans rely on food stamps — more than double the number 10 years ago.
    Michelle Ness, executive director of the PRISM food shelf in Golden Valley, told Minnesota Public Radio for a story aired Monday that her clients increasingly can and do work, but their jobs don't pay very well.
    "It's folks who are getting re-employed and they're underemployed," Ness said.
    State Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson agreed that underemployment is part of the reason, but she said there other factors, too.
    More Minnesotans are now eligible for food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In 2010, the state raised the income limit and stopped counting vehicles and savings accounts against applicants. Jesson said the state also made a big push to sign up eligible people during the recession.
    "We don't want children, adults, seniors, anyone going to bed hungry," she said. "That's not good for kids who want to go to school to learn, not good for parents who are out looking for jobs, not good for anyone. So that's one of the reasons that we wanted to make sure that if you're eligible for SNAP you knew about it and we made it easier for those folks to get on it."
    Minnesota's enrollment has fallen 6 percent in the past year, partly because the program isn't being publicized as much.
    Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, attributed the decline to a drop in efforts to encourage people to seek assistance. Bus and radio advertisements for SNAP have come to a halt. When those ads were running, people signed up, she said.
    Mitch Pearlstein, president of the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative Twin Cities think tank, said government should play a role in alleviating hunger, but the current rate of food stamp use isn't sustainable.
    "The government doesn't have the money," Pearlstein said. "We simply have to find ways of scaling down on government, at least significantly reducing its growth, and we keep on failing."

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