MANKATO — Statewide, 69.4 percent of those who are eligible for food stamps are enrolled in the program. In Blue Earth County, that figure is only 37.6 percent.
County staff view that difference as a shortfall to be made up.
“Our mission is to get the word out,” said Human Services Director Phil Claussen.
At least one county commissioner views that difference a bit, well, differently.
“What if you don’t think it’s so bad?” Commissioner Mark Piepho told Claussen at Tuesday’s County Board meeting.
Piepho said there are “cultural reasons” people choose not to seek food stamps.
“And I think that’s fine,” he said.
Claussen’s explanation for why Blue Earth County’s rate of food stamp use is lower than elsewhere included cultural factors, though only indirectly.
He said Blue Earth County has a large population of the elderly, who may be poor but perhaps less inclined to use food stamps. Mankato is a hub for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, some of which provide their own food.
Claussen also said Mankato’s large college-aged population may play a role. College students are eligible for food stamps — if they meet the same income guidelines as others — but may choose not to accept the benefit.
Still, Blue Earth County’s rate of eligible people using food stamps has risen by about 64 percent since 2008. The statewide figure is 57 percent over that span.
Eligibility for food stamps is partly based on income. For a single person, the monthly pre-tax limit is $1,498, rising by about $525 for each person in the household. In the federal government’s 2009 fiscal year, the average benefit per household was $227 per month, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
According to 2011 figures, there were 5,427 people on food stamps in Blue Earth County, up from 2,947 in 2008. The program is commonly called food stamps, but is known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Minnesota.
While the county pays nothing for food stamps themselves, it does pay for employees to determine eligibility.
The Greater Mankato Area United Way is working on a plan to get more people aware that they may qualify for food stamps. More details are expected next month.