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Federal food programs see local increase in need

CHAMPAIGN -- With more than 1.5 million people enrolled in the federal food benefit program, Illinois is among the top six states in the nation receiving the most federal help feeding its residents - following Texas, California, New York, Florida and Michigan.

This past February marked a record high for the federal food stamp program since its inception during the Great Depression as more than 32 million families claimed benefits. Now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, low-income families buy food at participating retailers using an electronic card, much like a debit card.

Champaign County residents have not been immune to the growing need.
Food stamp recipients more than doubled in Champaign County between 1989 and 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 1989, nearly 8,500 Champaign County residents received food stamps. By July 2007, just over 17,100 residents received food stamps.

Champaign County residents enrolled in the program spent just over $2.8 million in food stamp benefits in September '“ a nearly 30 percent increase from this past January, when participants redeemed nearly $2.2 million in food stamp benefits, according to federal data.

The increase in demand is taking its toll on other food programs as well.
Brandon Meline, a program director at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said the number of residents enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is at an all-time high.

WIC is a federal food program provides coupons for supplemental food such as dairy products, cereal and beans to pregnant women or mothers and children up to the age of 5 who meet income guidelines. To qualify, a family of four can make no more than $40,793.

"We hit 4,300 (participants) for our WIC caseload this Fall/Summer, which is the highest it has ever been,' Meline said, "so the demand for food assistance is evident through our WIC program.'

Likewise, local food banks have seen a 30 percent increase in the number of individuals served over last year.

The Eastern Illinois Food Bank provides 5.4 million pounds of food to low-income families in a 14-county area across eastern Illinois through 220 food pantries.

Last year, these food banks served between 33,000 and 34,000 people each month, said Cheryl Middaugh, director of marketing and development for Eastern Illinois Food Bank.

Now, about 44,000 individuals seek help each month, she said.

"This is not even counting meals at soup kitchens,' Middaugh said.

Soup kitchens serve about 150,000 individual meals a month, she said.

"What we're hearing from our agencies '¦ is (there's) a lot of new faces,' Middaugh said.

Graph of the number of households receiving food stamps broken down by county

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