JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Across America, millions of people are suffering from what's now called "food insecurity." In laymen's terms it means they do not know where their next meal is coming from.
According to recent statistics from Feeding America, in 2015 42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children. That accounts for just over 13 percent of American households.
In Arkansas, the numbers are even higher. Feeding America ranks Arkansas second in the nation behind Mississippi at 19.2%.
The S.N.A.P. program, formerly called "food stamps," aims to help keep these families fed. The federal program is administered at the state level. In Arkansas, it falls on the Department of Human Services to oversee the program.
According to statistics from the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance 55,000 children are kept out of poverty every year because of S.N.A.P.
S.N.A.P. stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. One of the key words is "supplemental". The program is not designed to cover all of a family's food costs.
"This is a supplemental program. This doesn't allow for a family to purchase all of their food needs with just this program. It's there to help and supplement," said Brandi Hinkle with the Department of Human Services.
But for families like Mary Clayton's of Caraway, S.N.A.P. benefits are one of the big reasons her family of five stays fed.
Mary has three small children, ages six, four and six months.
On the 11th of each month, Mary gets her S.N.A.P. benefits: $335. That's just over eleven dollars a day. It doesn't last long feeding her children and what she calls her 'common-law' husband.
Fortunately, Mary also gets a disability check and W.I.C. money. "W.I.C." stands for Women, Infants, and Children. She gets $250 a month in W.I.C. benefits.
Even with that assistance, that's less than $600 to feed five people for a month. Mary says they get by on the benefits and her family doesn't go hungry. Sometimes, she even has a little left over to get the kids a special treat.
But S.N.A.P. benefits can go toward more than just food at the grocery store.
Brandi is quick to point out that families like Mary's can buy more than just groceries with SNAP benefits. They can get what are called "double-up bucks" or a two-for-one at participating farmer's markets.
If S.N.A.P. beneficiaries really want to stretch their money they can grow their own food.
"You can use your S.N.A.P. benefits to buy seeds. If you want to start a small garden you can do that. You can have it in an urban home or a rural one; we encourage people to do that," Hinkle said.
If you need assistance feeding your family, Hinkle says you can apply online or go to any local DHS office. It typically takes a month to get qualified but if there is an emergency, that process can be sped up. In that case, it's best you go to your local DHS office.
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