HILO — The number of food-stamp recipients on Kauai increased slightly in 2017.
While 7,671 people in on Kauai benefited from the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — also referred to as food stamps — by the end of December 2016, 8,258 did so by the same time in 2017, according to data from the state Department of Human Services.
The increase reflects a steady trend in SNAP participation since 2015. That year, an average of nearly 8,340 people per month benefited from SNAP on the island.
According to the data, a monthly average of $1,716,797 in benefits was distributed to island residents in 2017, with each participant receiving, on average, $227.35 per person each month. In 2016, beneficiaries received a monthly average of $219.50 per person, for a monthly average total of $1,763,514.
Statewide, total SNAP participants dropped from 148,848 in 2016 to 142,616 in 2017.
Ke‘opu Reelitz, DHS spokeswoman, said the continuing decrease in SNAP participants is a result of changing economic and demographic trends statewide. Hawaii’s unemployment rate has continued to decrease since 2009, while the inflation rate has plateaued somewhat.
At the same time, the drop in participation is partially the cause of the increase in benefit amounts — with fewer people in the program, those who remain can claim greater benefits. However, Reelitz also pointed to the 2014 expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which allocated $19.9 billion to the nation’s food stamp program as a factor for fewer food stamp benefits issued in total statewide — over $33 million in 2017 compared to $34 million in 2016.
National SNAP data for the 2017 fiscal year was not available, although a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in 2017 revealed that 12 percent of Hawaii’s residents were involved in SNAP in 2016, slightly less than the national average of 14 percent. However, while fewer state families with children are involved in the program than the national average — 64 percent versus the nation’s 68 percent — 53 percent of participants are in working families, compared to the national average of 44 percent.
In total, SNAP issued over $66 billion in benefits in 2016. Meanwhile, a budget resolution passed in October will cut $193 billion from the program over the next 10 years, a 25 percent reduction.