CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – West Virginia is one of seven states to see an increase in the number of residents receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a nonprofit group said in a recent report.
The report by the Food and Research Action Center said 362,133 West Virginians received benefits from the program, known as SNAP, in February. That’s up nearly 2.5 percent from January and 3.5 percent from February 2013.
“Our caseload continues to increase,” Dawn Hawkins, senior policy specialist for the Division of Family Assistance, told the Charleston Daily Mail. “There are a lot of factors,” including job loss.
McDowell County had the most recipients at 34 percent, followed by Mingo County at 27 percent and Wyoming County at 24 percent. Monongalia and Jefferson counties both had the fewest recipients at 9 percent.
Other states seeing an increase in February were Nevada, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Hawaii and Pennsylvania.
Nationally, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits declined by nearly 1.4 million to about 46 million in February, compared to February 2013.
It was the lowest level since August 2011.
The SNAP program helps low-income families purchase food through partnerships with state agencies, nutrition educators and community and faith-based organizations. In West Virginia, 19.5 percent of the population participated in the program as of May 9.
Benefits do not increase during the summer when children are not in schools, which offer meal programs. But there are other programs that help off-set some of the summer financial strain on low-income families, Hawkins said.
The Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition offers the Summer Food Service Program. Children enrolled in the program can receive a nutritious breakfast, lunch or both in accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
Energy Express, an AmeriCorps program offered through the West Virginia University Extension Service, focuses on child literacy and nutrition. The program serves about 3,000 children at 80 host sites throughout the state.
Schools that serve larger populations of low-income families offer summer meal programs of their own.