Apr 222009
 
Authors: Natasha Pepperl

Food prices are projected to increase 3 to 4 percent this year and Larimer County Human Services is reporting a significant increase in applicants for the Food Stamp Program, recently renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, these past six months.

The cost of food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported, rose 5.5 percent last year, and this year’s increase only adds to the sum.

“I buy the cheap stuff,” junior English education major Kara Shroyer said about how rising food prices are affecting her.

“I can’t really buy the healthier stuff,” she said, explaining that she buys very little produce.

Marsha Ellis, the LCHS Benefits Planning division manager, said she expects the number of applicants for food assistance to continue to rise in light of the recession.

Ellis said LCHS received 1,153 new applicants for SNAP in February, which is a large increase compared to the 731 applicants the agency received last year during the same month.

The number of households that received food stamps in the last half of 2008 rose 11 percent. Applications for food stamps rose 62 percent in the same period.

The influx of requests is causing the wait time, for an agency appointment to discuss approval for SNAP to stretch two to three weeks long, she said.

Ellis also said only 20 heads of households between the ages of 18 to 25 were approved for food aid within the past six months.

She said this low number is probably the result of students applying for SNAP in a lesser proportion than the general population because it is very difficult for them to qualify for the assistance.

“There are very strict criteria for who is a student and who would be eligible,” she said. “Not a lot of the students are going to meet that criteria.”

Those classified as a household of one — with a sole beneficiary and no other supporters — qualify for food assistance with a monthly gross income, or all earnings before taxes, of $1,127 or less. Students with children under the age of 12 who are employed and working 20 hours a week and who have obtained work-study are considered qualified contenders.

Households who are not otherwise financially supported, who earn less than $150 a month and whose assets —-/a person’s home and vehicle, among others — total less than $100 a month may be eligible for expedited service, meaning they will receive their benefits no later than seven days after filling out a food stamp application. Those households may also qualify if monthly income and assets are not enough to pay for shelter, according to SNAP’s Web site.

Those with a large number of financial assets may not qualify for SNAP.

Groups who live in the same house but buy food separately most often qualify as separate households, according to LCHS’ Web site.

Leslie Beckstrom, the CSU SNAP Nutrition Education assistant director, encourages struggling students to apply for SNAP.

In order to cut grocery costs, Beckstrom also advises students to learn how to cook from scratch.

“College students are very into pre-packaged and convenience foods,” she said, adding that they are more expensive than their simpler counterparts.

Beckstrom also advises students to buy canned and frozen produce, which offer the same nutritional value as fresh produce at a fraction of the cost.

If students’ wallets are especially tight, Beckstrom said they can use food banks to supplement their diets. She expects the number of students who utilize this resource to grow in the near future.

Kelli McGannon, a customer marketer for King Soopers, said by e-mail that the company has seen a trend in customers purchasing less name brand items and preparing more meals at home.

“We know today’s shoppers are looking for alternatives to stretch their grocery dollars,” she said.

To save money, she said students should use coupons and plan meals around supermarket advertisements.

Freshman journalism major Alex Vitale said she expects that paying for groceries will not be easy when she moves off-campus next year.

“Fruits and vegetables are getting to be way too expensive,” she said, adding that she has friends who receive food assistance.

“I probably will be eating cereal for a lot of my meals,” she said.

Students can visit http://snap-step1.usda.gov/fns/ to find out if they qualify for SNAP.

Staff writer Natasha Pepperl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Food stamps facts

-Students surveyed said they spend an average of about $60 a week on groceries.

-A majority of students surveyed said they pay for groceries themselves, and several said they used student loans to help pay for food.

-Most students said the economic recession has affected how they spend their money, and many said they are buying cheaper brands of food and are more conscious of how much money they spend on groceries. Several said they are also having to buy less healthy food because it is cheaper and are eating out less.

-About half of students surveyed said they would never consider using food assistance. Students who expressed they would not said they felt others could use the food assistance more than them and that they should only be used in extreme circumstances.

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