Food stamps increase in Hawaii


By MEGAN MOSELEY

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Justin Majamay is one of 47,731 Hawaii County residents seeing an increase in their food stamp benefits this month.

Majamay, a volunteer at HOPE services in Hilo, said for people like him who are unable to work, the assistance and the increase is desperately needed.

“It helps a lot,” he said. “Food is so expensive here.”

The cost of food is one reason why Hawaii is the only state not seeing a cut to its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps.

SNAP benefits will be decreasing nationwide starting in November. The cuts are happening after a temporary increase to food stamps funded by the federal stimulus package expires on Oct. 31. The increase occurred in 2009, after Congress approved to add a $45.2 billion stimulus package into the program as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help citizens manage during a time of economic woes.

When the increase expires in November, a family of four in New Hampshire, for instance, will go from living off of $668 a month to $632.

But, in Hawaii, a family of four went from receiving $1,065 a month in SNAP benefits to $1,100 on Oct. 1.

According to Pamela Higa, SNAP administrator with the Hawaii Department of Human Services, the reason for the increase is multifaceted.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service that determines the SNAP allotments, found the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) to be higher than the June 2008 ARRA amounts, which increased SNAP allotments by 13.6 percent in 2009. COLA is based off food prices, inflation and income.

Higa said SNAP allotments are adjusted every Oct. 1, and since food is traditionally higher in Hawaii than in the continental 48 states and Washington, D.C., the SNAP allotments are then also higher.

Higa also said that SNAP uses poverty guidelines to set income standards. The guidelines are adjusted every year to take into account the changes in the Consumer Price Index. And, because the cost of living in Hawaii is higher, the poverty guidelines for Hawaii are higher, as well.

But while SNAP benefits are increasing and so is the number of people receiving them, unemployment has been steadily decreasing.

According to the State of Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Research and Statistics Office, unemployment is down from 8.3 percent in July of 2012 to 6.7 percent in July 2013.

David Hammes, professor of economics at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said the lack of correlation between the two could be because the jobs aren’t paying enough.

According to Alison Villasista, SNAP specialist for HOPE Services Hawaii, having a job doesn’t necessarily mean you can afford to live.

“It’s double, or triple the cost to live here,” she said. “I know in Vegas, you can get a gallon of milk for a couple dollars. Here, you’re pushing $8; on sale you might be able to get it at $5. It is crazy expensive here. The cost of living keeps rising, but wages aren’t going up. So, many people are having problems making ends meet.”

Those looking to apply can do so at the local processing centers or apply online at humanservices.hawaii.gov, or contact Villasista at (808) 217-5129.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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