Annrose M. Guarino | 5/22/2008 6:52:58 PM
The weak economy and food inflation have hit struggling households hard. The U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp program is designed to help such households, but, nationally, the program misses one in three eligible people, according LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Annrose Guarino.
“Nonparticipation hurts families because they are missing nutrition assistance that could stretch their food dollars," Guarino says.
“Program participation makes incomes more flexible to purchase food,” the nutritionist says, noting that food stamps help families focus their resources on essential food purchases. In fiscal year 2007, the average monthly food stamp benefit per household was more than $200.
The local community benefits, too, because food stamp recipients spend more on food at local retailers than those who are eligible but don’t participate. Participation is virtually certain to result in increased food purchases, Guarino says.
“Outreach activities and education are powerful tools in overcoming the barriers to food stamp participation,” Guarino says. The LSU AgCenter works with individuals, families and community organizations to offer programs designed to assist food stamp recipients in stretching their food dollars and enjoying healthful, nutritious meals.
“The goal is to provide educational programs that increase, within a limited budget, the likelihood of all food stamp recipients being able to make healthy food choices,” Guarino says.
The nutritionist says the food stamp program helps low-income families:
– Stretch food dollars. Those receiving food stamp benefits spend more money on food than other low-income households.
– Fight obesity through education. By educating low-income families on the nutrition benefits of the program, obesity rates may be reduced.
– Improve nutrition. Nutrition educators teach food stamp participants the importance of a quality diet, how to prepare healthy foods and how to make healthy choices.
– Put food on the table for their children. Families participating in the program free up more money for additional and healthier food purchases.
– Invest in our future. More than 50 percent of participants are kids.
– Keep elderly family members independent. For the elderly, participation can help improve nutritional status and well-being and increase independence. Nine percent of participants are age 60 or older.
– Make the transition to self-sufficiency. Food stamp participants become financially stable and provide support as they transition to self-sufficiency. Half of all new participants leave the program within nine months.
To find out more about food stamps, call 1-888-LA HELPU (1-888-524-3578) or go to www.dss.state.la.us for an application. Also, contact an LSU AgCenter Extension family and consumer science agent, or visit the food and health section on the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.