Area sees increase in food stamp use; Lyon County edges closer to national average

There are a lot of indicators Emporia's economy is starting to grow again, and those have been developing for about a year now with expansions at places like Hostess, Simmons and Dynamic Discs or new businesses sprouting up across town.

Unfortunately, there are also indicators that growth isn't reaching everybody, either in Emporia or across the area.

One such indicator is a rise in the use of food stamps, now known as SNAP benefits. From 2007, the year the so-called Great Recession started, to 2011, the USDA says Lyon County's usage rate went from 7.7 percent to 14.1 percent. That means as many as 5,000 county residents received the assistance three years ago. Lyon County's figure is above the state average of 10.5 percent and is now approaching the national average of 14.8 percent. In 2007, the national average was close to 9 percent. 

Local relief agencies tell KVOE News this is one of several signs that not everybody is benefiting from recent developments with the economy. Abundant Harvest Director Lee Alderman says his ministry saw an increase in traffic in 2009 and is in the middle of another spike right now.

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Alderman isn't sure what's driving this current increase at Abundant Harvest, both for food and clothing. Salvation Army Lt. Lynn Lopez, who had over 200 new families asking for assistance last year, says there are jobs available but not everybody can take advantage of those.

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All area counties saw increases in food stamp use from 2007 to 2011:

*Chase County went from 6.7 to 8.1 percent.
*Coffey County went from 6.3 to 9 percent.
*Greenwood County went from 7.6 to 13.2 percent.
*Morris County went from 5.6 to 7.2 percent.
*Osage County went from 6.6 to 11.2 percent.

The USDA pegged Lyon County's inflation-adjusted median household income level at $40,751 for 2011, well below the state average of $50,588 and the national average of $52,306. Across the area, most other counties had below-average median household incomes. In fact, Coffey County was the only area county above both the state and national averages that year at $57,000:

*Chase County: $42,689
*Coffey County: $56,596
*Greenwood County: $37,042
*Morris County: $45,806
*Osage County: $49,008

Congress is cutting about $8 billion out of the SNAP program over the next decade as part of an agreement reached early this year on the Farm Bill. This followed a 135-percent increase in SNAP expenses from 2007 to 2011.

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