Morrison County Social Services served 2,008 people with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in July.
SNAP is a federal program that provides benefits to supplement the food budget of families in need. The 1,122 open cases in Morrison County in July was up slightly from July 2020, when it had 999 cases. It is still, however, well below the state average of 2,392 cases per county during the same month.
“That’s one of those key programs that helps individuals remain self-sufficient, especially our older population,” said Morrison County Social Services Director Brad Vold.
Tuesday, Social Services Income Maintenance Supervisor Karen Szczodroski gave an update on the program’s local impact to the County Board. In order to be eligible for SNAP, households must have an income no greater than 130% of the federal poverty guideline (FPG) if that does not include a member who is elderly or disabled. Households with elderly or disabled members can get up to 165% of the FPG.
For example, a family of four without anyone who is elderly or disabled living in the home can earn up to $2,839 per month and be eligible for SNAP. If one of the members of the household is elderly or disabled, that number would grow to $3,603 per month.
The maximum amount a household can get is determined by the number of people living there. That same four-person household could receive a maximum monthly benefit of $680.
A single person could make no more than $16,596 annually — $1,383 per month — to receive a maximum benefit of $204 per month.
“Of course, if they have income, the amount does get less,” Szczodroski said.
Of the 92 total applications for SNAP Morrison County received in August, 15 were expedited. This happens when a household has a monthly income of less than $150 and has less than $100 in assets. When this happens, Morrison County Social Services is required to issue benefits within 24 hours.
Applications, both expedited and in general, vary from month to month. The highest number of applications in Morrison County over the last three years have been accepted during the winter months; peaking each year in November and December. There were 136 and 143 total applications in November 2020 and December 2020, respectively. Of those, 32 and 36 were expedited.
“It’s like a credit card now,” Szczodroski said, in terms of how people receive their benefits. “You can take it — you use it as a credit card when you’re checking out. You can buy food; it’s just food that you can eat.”
She clarified further that benefits cannot be used to purchase items such as tobacco, alcohol, pet food, soap or paper products, vitamins or medicine or hot food that will be eaten on site. The funding can be used only for groceries.
Caseloads in general have been down in 2021, compared to previous years. Szczodroski said, with unemployment benefits coming to an end, Social Services is starting to see an uptick of residents who are filing re-applications — those who have received benefits and were off of SNAP for at least 30 days. This is because extra unemployment benefits were keeping some households above the level where they needed the assistance.
She expects that trend to continue in the coming months.
“The unemployment ended,” she said. “They got two checks in September, so our applications have increased. Even the cash applications have increased, because people are now starting to look for work. A lot of them just wanted to ride out the unemployment. The applications are picking up.”
In July 2021, Morrison County paid out a total of $429,022.15 in SNAP benefits. That equalled about $213.66 per person. As a state, Minnesotans received about $82.434 million in benefits, or $216.19 per person.
Regionally, Morrison County’s caseload is similar to that of neighboring counties such as Mille Lacs, Todd and Wadena. In July, the 1,122 cases locally compared to 1,073 in Mille Lacs County, 822 in Todd County and 747 in Wadena County. It is, however, considerably less than the caseloads of 1,783 and 2,135, respectively, in Benton and Crow Wing counties.
According to information provided by Szczodroski, in fiscal year 2019, 409,000 Minnesotans received SNAP benefits — about 7% of the overall population. Almost 64% of SNAP participants are in families with children, about 33% are in families with members who are elderly or disabled and almost 42% were in working families.
SNAP kept about 67,000 people in Minnesota out of poverty, including 34,000 children, per year between 2013 - 2017, on average.
“Every dollar spent on SNAP generates $1.70 in economic activity,” Szczodroski said. “Then, it does say that they cannot purchase beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes; it has to be something edible.”