Statewide, about one in every seven Idahoans is on federal food stamps, but in some counties, the rate is significantly higher.
According to data recorded by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and the U.S. Census Bureau,CanyonCountyis leading the state in food stamp use among its residents. In December, 44,286 of the county’s 188,923 residents used food stamps, for a rate of 23.4 percent.
Next highest by percent is Payette County, where 4,334 of the county’s 22,623 residents are using food stamps, for a rate of 19.2. Following closely is Lewis County, with a rate of 19.1 percent.
Of the state’s urban areas, Canyon County is leading in food stamp rates, but its neighbor to the east, Ada County, represents a greater share of the statewide total of usage. Some 49,933 Ada County residents are using food stamps, representing 21 percent of the statewide total of 237,364. Canyon County’s figure represents 18.7 percent of the state’s total figure.
At 12.7 percent of residents on food stamps,Ada County has one of the lower usage rates amongIdaho’s more urban counties. Twin Falls has 17.7 percent on the program, Bonneville has 16.7 percent and Kootenai has 15.6 percent of residents on food stamps.
Teton County in eastern Idahohas the lowest rate in the state, with 6.6 percent of residents on food stamps. Custer Countyis the second-lowest with 6.8 percent.
Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, said it’s “frustrating” to know that one-fourth of her county’s residents are using federal food aid. Batt said that she would like the Department of Health and Welfare, which administers the program, to see if there is any fraud in Canyon County, though she admits that’s likely a small portion of the total disbursement of food stamp dollars.
She also said that she’d like to tighten food stamp eligibility guidelines, but those are set by the federal government.
Maybe, Batt said, there are some people using food stamps as a long-term solution for groceries, which is not the intent of the safety net program. She doesn’t mind allowing access to food aid to residents in need, but wonders if some are really in need. “There is no question that there are those who take advantage of the program,” she said.
Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, whose legislative district includes Teton County, told IdahoReporter.com Monday the low usage rate in that area comes down to income, demographics and ideology.
“One part of the population is agricultural people, which is why you wouldn’t find them on the food stamp rolls,” Loertscher said. Residents with high-end homes who earn too much to need federal food support are seen by the representative as a segment also not likely to show up on food stamp lists.
But it also comes down to personal beliefs about the proper role of government. “They’ve very self-reliant people,” Loertscher said. “Even if some of them qualify for food stamps, they’re not going to be on them.”