Food stamp use rose in Sevier County

May. 16, 2014 @ 07:19 PM

About one in five people in Sevier County used food stamps in 2011, an increase of 7.5 percentage points from the mark when the recession started in 2007.

That’s according to data compiled by Robert Gallardo at the Mississippi State University Extension Office, who conducted a national study on the use of food stamps. The results were shared on web site dailyyonder.com, which covers rural issues.

The rate in Sevier County was 19.4 percent, which was lower than the state average of 20.4 percent but considerably greater than the national rate of 14.8 percent.

Rural areas tended to have higher percentages of their population receiving benefits because the average income in those areas is typically lower, according to the Daily Yonder story.

The inflation-adjusted median income in Sevier County for 2011 was $41,794, compared to a state median of $43,180 and a median national income of $52,306.

The 2011 rates match what Tony Stover saw when he opened Groceries & More, a discount grocery store on Newport Highway, that year.

“When I first started it was about 18 or 20 percent of my business,” he said.

The number has gone up since then, but Stover said that’s in part because he’s advertised and offered additional specials on his discount prices that have helped draw food stamp users to his store.

They now account for between 30 and 35 percent of his business, he said. “Food stamps are popular here,” he said. “I do attribute that to, people with food stamps are looking to make their dollars go further.”

While he acknowledges he sees some customers who come in with brand new cars or expensive, designer clothes and use food stamps, he’s also seen some that weren’t able to buy necessities that weren’t included in the food stamp program.

He’s started making additional offers to help them get some of those necessities when they spend $100 or more on a single visit, he said.

Figures from the state Department of Human Services don’t break down the totals by percentage of population, but they show the number of people using food stamps here staying around 17,000 since January 2012, at times reaching more than 17,500 and occasionally dropping to less than 17,000.

As of April, the last date in the records, the total was 17,016 — very close to the mark of 17,022 reported in December of 2011.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com