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States where food stamps are used the most

States where food stamps are used the most

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity throughout the United States affected more than 37 million people, among them 11 million children. That number, though staggering, represented the lowest point of food insecurity in the country in almost 90 years. Against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, national hunger-relief organization Feeding America expects more than 54 million Americans to face food shortages. This demand puts additional strain on already-strapped food pantries, hunger-relief organizations, and drives significant need for increases in the country's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known previously as food stamps). Between February and July, between 6 and 7 million additional Americans applied and were approved for SNAP benefits.

Stacker compiled a list of the states where food stamps are used the most using SNAP data realeased July 10, 2020, by the USDA. The number of households and the poverty rate are current as of 2019 data from the Census Bureau. States are ranked by the percent of households that received food stamps in April 2020. Additional information came from sources like the Center for American Progress, Feeding America, and state websites and local food banks.

Following mandatory business and school closures last spring, the Trump administration in April backed off its push to enforce stricter SNAP rules, namely work requirements for families without children. The proposed food stamp cuts would have taken almost 700,000 Americans off their SNAP benefits. A federal judge on Oct. 18 struck down a renewed push by the administration to enforce the additional rules. Meanwhile, states have relied since March on temporary SNAP flexibility in order to deliver emergency supplemental benefits to families, representing a major lifeline at a time when many students have been remote-learning without access to school meals.

Keep reading to find out where your state ranks in terms of food stamp usage, and what is being done to curb hunger and food insecurity in your area.

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#51. Wyoming

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 5.0%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 11,703
- Average benefit per household: $256 (#11 highest among all states)

Wyoming's department of family services works with the University of Wyoming's extension office to offer a Cent$ible Nutrition Program. Food Bank of the Rockies and mobile pantries also help families in need. The Wyoming Department of Family Services in June announced SNAP recipients in the state could begin using benefits for online food orders from Amazon and Walmart.

#50. Utah

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 7.0%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 72,173
- Average benefit per household: $268 (#4 highest among all states)

Utah Food Bank distributes about 38 million meals a year. Utah has a relatively low poverty rate, but the state has problems in the distribution of wealth. An additional Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer program was initiated in August 2020 for eligible families in the state to receive $300 per child for meals.

#49. North Dakota

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 7.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 23,329
- Average benefit per household: $242 (#21 highest among all states)

An abundance of farmers markets in North Dakota accept food stamp benefits, bridging the gap for those in need who seek nutritious diets. There's a debate in the state on whether sugary goods should be banned under benefits.

#48. New Hampshire

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 7.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 39,760
- Average benefit per household: $194 (#51 highest among all states)

Although food insecurity in New Hampshire is less than the national average (about 9.6% to 13%), the state is reporting higher levels than a decade ago. To help combat this trend, New Hampshire uses a Double Up Food Bucks program that provides an additional 50% off certain fresh fruits and vegetables.

#47. Kansas

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 8.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 92,922
- Average benefit per household: $231 (#32 highest among all states)

Some Kansans are pushing to create a break on the state's high food sales tax for low-income residents. The state's 6.5% sales tax on food can be coupled with local sales taxes in some areas to create a tax of more than 10% for groceries.

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#46. Minnesota

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 9.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 207,153
- Average benefit per household: $203 (#49 highest among all states)

Almost 39% of families receiving food stamp assistance have children. The state significantly expanded its SNAP benefits during the pandemic, infusing the program with an additional $55 million and expanding opportunities for beneficiaries by allowing SNAP to be used for online purchases.

#45. Nebraska

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 9.6%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 73,927
- Average benefit per household: $257 (#10 highest among all states)

Almost one in nine Nebraska residents (including one in six children) struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America. Nebraska is trying to institute a Double Up Food Bucks program similar to New Hampshire's.

#44. Indiana

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 9.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 254,030
- Average benefit per household: $266 (#6 highest among all states)

Indiana has a robust food bank system, but one in eight residents still struggles with hunger. In 2020, ex-drug offenders finally became eligible for food stamps in Indiana.

#43. Colorado

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 224,890
- Average benefit per household: $236 (#28 highest among all states)

Just prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Feeding America estimated almost 600,000 Colorado residents were "struggling with hunger." Some data suggests that only 60% of low-income residents participate in food assistance programs, indicating a stronger need for food insecurity advocacy.

#42. Idaho

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 66,547
- Average benefit per household: $243 (#20 highest among all states)

Idaho has almost 222,000 food-insecure residents. The state employed a Map the Meal Gap initiative that has improved that number by almost 1% (about 11,000 residents) since 2019.

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#41. New Jersey

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 350,174
- Average benefit per household: $227 (#34 highest among all states)

A blockbuster report released Sept. 30 by the Community FoodBank of New Jersey projected that food insecurity could jump by as much as 80% by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19. The pandemic is also expected to add 431,000 newly hungry residents this year—a climb of 56%. New Jersey's dense population and high costs of living can contribute to the number of households receiving food stamps.

#40. South Dakota

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 37,849
- Average benefit per household: $267 (#5 highest among all states)

Poverty rates in South Dakota were in decline prior to COVID-19, however, census data show that the indigenous population in the state has a poverty rate that is almost double the next highest race/ethnic group. Proposed federal food stamp changes may particularly affect residents living on reservations. The state initiated increased SNAP benefits in April 2020 due to the pandemic.

#39. Virginia

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 342,330
- Average benefit per household: $241 (#23 highest among all states)

Virginia's median household income is well above the national average, but the gap between rich and poor in the state keeps growing. The U.S. Census Bureau uses the Gini index to measure inequality in income, and Virginia's Gini index rose from 2017 to 2018. Virginia in 2019 received a $3.8 million penalty for mistakes in processing food stamp applications.

#38. Iowa

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 11.9%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 153,470
- Average benefit per household: $230 (#33 highest among all states)

The Iowa caucuses put a spotlight on issues like poverty in the Hawkeye State. For example, Latinx residents have a poverty rate that's almost double the state average. However, some Iowa constituents are at odds with how the state should disperse aid to lessen such gaps—the state Farmers Union supports federal suggestions for new food stamp rules.

#37. Montana

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 12.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 52,998
- Average benefit per household: $232 (#30 highest among all states)

Some Montana residents advocate for BackPack meals, volunteer assistance that provides schoolchildren with lunches—the argument being that food stamps do not cover enough nutrition for the month. With Montana food stamps costing the federal government about $12 million a month, residents are divided on whether new guidelines to the program would help or hurt the state.

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#36. Missouri

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 321,512
- Average benefit per household: $251 (#14 highest among all states)

Missouri's poverty rate continually stays above the national average. The group Missourians to End Poverty identifies nutrition and health as two of five key factors affecting poverty in the state. Missouri already restricts temporary food stamps.

#35. Wisconsin

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 312,579
- Average benefit per household: $205 (#48 highest among all states)

The University of Wisconsin's Institute for Research on Poverty found the effect food stamps have in lowering poverty rates are declining. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Policy Forum released a report in September 2020 showing a 21% rise in FoodShare (SNAP) recipients in the last year, attributed to the pandemic.

#34. Arkansas

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.5%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 156,621
- Average benefit per household: $236 (#27 highest among all states)

Reports find that Arkansas is one of the worst states for food insecurity, with problems concentrated in the central and southern sectors of the state. Residents facing hunger needed an average of $43 more per month to buy enough food to meet their needs, even with the Arkansas Foodbank giving out about 26.5 million pounds of food annually, according to 2017 figures.

#33. Arizona

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.6%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 362,808
- Average benefit per household: $254 (#12 highest among all states)

About one in seven Arizona residents lives in poverty, however for several years food insecuirty rates for Arizona children have been on the decline. COVID-19 may reverse that progress, however: Feeding America projected an increase in food insecurity among Arizonan children from 19% in 2018 to 28.7% in 2020.

#32. Kentucky

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 241,584
- Average benefit per household: $250 (#16 highest among all states)

Kentucky in 2019 created a special task force to examine food stamps in the state. Throughout October, thousands of eligible children in Kentucky continued receiving meals through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program.

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#31. California

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.9%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 1,824,382
- Average benefit per household: $263 (#7 highest among all states)

California continues to battle a homeless crisis and wildfires that negatively affect low-income residents. The state is pioneering efforts to make food stamp benefits eligible for use in restaurants.

#30. South Carolina

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.9%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 275,630
- Average benefit per household: $250 (#15 highest among all states)

South Carolina ranks in the middle of the pack nationally for food insecurity (11.7%). There has been some criticism that poverty in South Carolina is particularly hard on millennials. The median household income is $51,015.

#29. Texas

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 1,430,437
- Average benefit per household: $269 (#3 highest among all states)

Texas has a 14% hunger and food insecurity rate. Although the poverty rate in Texas is falling, it remains one of the highest in the nation. Last December, more than 100,000 residents filed for food stamp benefits.

#28. Ohio

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.5%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 688,024
- Average benefit per household: $242 (#22 highest among all states)

Ohio falls just outside of the top 10 states with the worst food insecurity rates, with poverty disproportionately affecting women in Ohio. Additional benefits for families with children learning remotely during the pandemic were made available in September.

#27. Maine

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 85,139
- Average benefit per household: $199 (#50 highest among all states)

In Maine, urban counties show a much higher rate of residents living below the poverty line. However, Maine's urban areas also produced some of the highest median incomes.

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#26. Maryland

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.9%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 332,146
- Average benefit per household: $213 (#42 highest among all states)

Maryland has a low poverty rate and food insecurity rate (10.4%). Despite these low rates, Maryland is an expensive state to live in. On average, goods and services cost 9.4% more in Maryland than the rest of the U.S., creating a high cost of living.

#25. Vermont

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.0%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 39,351
- Average benefit per household: $209 (#44 highest among all states)

Vermont has an enticing $60,076 median household income and one of the lowest food insecurity rates in the country (9.8%). Despite the state having the lowest COVID-19 infection rate as of mid-October, a high demand for food assistance has led to the closure of the Farmers to Families food box program by the end of the month. The issue is exasperated by the expiration of other relief programs; a growing emergency that has prompted multiple other charities to step up and offer help.

#24. North Carolina

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 619,367
- Average benefit per household: $232 (#29 highest among all states)

The need for food access has spiked in North Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 20% of all residents facing food insecurity in 2020 according to Feeding America estimates. The state in may maximized SNAP benefits up to 6$646 a month for a family of four. The expanded benefits were approved by the USDA through the end of October.

#23. Connecticut

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.4%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 212,331
- Average benefit per household: $226 (#35 highest among all states)

Connecticut was the only state to see its poverty rate significantly rise according to recent census data. The Connecticut Department of Social Services on Oct. 16 distributed $16.2 million in Emergency SNAP benefits to almost 50% of Connecticut’s SNAP participants—roughly 150,000 households—in addition to $119.6 million in emergency benefits provided between April and September of 2020.

#22. Alaska

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.6%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 39,433
- Average benefit per household: $372 (#2 highest among all states)

Over a third of Alaskan children live in poverty. Alaskan natives and American Indians are the most affected, and a recent report stated that 20% of Alaskan children "lived in homes without enough food."

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#21. Michigan

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 628,885
- Average benefit per household: $223 (#36 highest among all states)

Michigan's poverty rate continues to drop, but the state has faced some difficult problems in recent years. The water crisis in Flint continues to affect low-income residents. Also, children younger than 5 have more than double the poverty rate of senior citizens.

#20. Tennessee

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 428,677
- Average benefit per household: $248 (#17 highest among all states)

Although the number of children living in poverty in Tennessee is falling, the total still amounts to around 200,000, or one out of every eight children. Despite planned federal rollbacks on food stamps, seven counties in Tennessee are exempt from the cuts. Those counties are considered "distressed" by the government.

#19. Washington

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 479,207
- Average benefit per household: $205 (#46 highest among all states)

Washington has a low poverty rate and doles out some of the highest average food stamp benefits in the country. To keep the momentum going, Seattle residents can now use food stamps to buy groceries from Amazon. However, some academics believe the poverty levels amid growing wealth in Seattle is "striking."

#18. Delaware

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 62,920
- Average benefit per household: $231 (#31 highest among all states)

Programs like The Bridge, a mobile van that helps prisoners get back on their feet by providing services like food and assistance with food stamp applications, are working to decrease high poverty numbers in Delaware. The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services in March 2020 signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to distribute emergency benefits each month to households not already receiving maximum SNAP benefits each month.

#17. Georgia

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 647,278
- Average benefit per household: $261 (#9 highest among all states)

Poverty in Georgia is steadily declining, but the state still has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. The Atlanta Community Food Bank reports 21.1% of the children they serve are food insecure. In recent years, the food bank gave out more than 56 million meals.

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#16. Massachusetts

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 445,664
- Average benefit per household: $207 (#45 highest among all states)

Massachusetts has one of the lowest average food stamp benefits in the country. The MetroWest region of Massachusetts is struggling with rising homeless rates and children living in poverty, and research suggests that living in poverty can affect school test scores.

#15. Hawaii

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 17.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 79,929
- Average benefit per household: $459 (#1 highest among all states)

Hawaii gives out the highest average food stamps benefit in the U.S. and has the lowest food insecurity rate nationwide. The Hawaii food bank feeds almost 287,000 residents yearly.

#14. Oklahoma

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 17.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 264,417
- Average benefit per household: $253 (#13 highest among all states)

Oklahoma's food insecurity is a glaring problem. Hunger Free Oklahoma reports that hunger costs the state "$1.4 billion each year through increased illness and decreased academic achievement." Of Oklahoma's 77 counties, 54 are considered food deserts—defined as areas with scarce amounts of grocery stores and fresh produce.

#13. Illinois

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 17.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 864,878
- Average benefit per household: $248 (#18 highest among all states)

About 1.5 million Illinois residents live in poverty, and one in six children struggle with hunger. Nonprofits like Operation Food and Inspiration Corp. work to close the gap. Illinois also joined the multi-state lawsuit against federal cutbacks to food stamp programs.

#12. Alabama

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 17.9%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 339,982
- Average benefit per household: $247 (#19 highest among all states)

In Alabama, Black communities are hit particularly hard by food insecurity. Alabama Possible aims to reduce poverty throughout the state. Alabama political leaders are also criticizing the federal plan to cut back food stamp benefits.

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#11. Pennsylvania

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 18.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 938,729
- Average benefit per household: $218 (#39 highest among all states)

More than 36% of households in Pennsylvania receiving food stamp benefits have children. Some young athletes in the Philadelphia area advocate for competing in sports, which they say helps ease food insecurity by keeping them in better shape (improved cardiovascular health, decreased risks of chronic obesity) and decreasing bullying. Overall, Pennsylvania's 12.1% food insecurity rate is right in the middle nationally.

#10. Mississippi

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 18.9%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 207,566
- Average benefit per household: $237 (#26 highest among all states)

For years, Mississippi has had the nation's highest poverty rate. The difference in child poverty among black and white children in Mississippi is startling: 46% of Black children compared to 15% of white children. Last year, the state finally made drug felons eligible for food stamps.

#9. Florida

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 19.0%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 1,499,980
- Average benefit per household: $216 (#41 highest among all states)

As Florida supplies food stamps to over 1.5 million residents, the state at the start of the year was closing offices that help people sign up for benefits. Floridian SNAP recipients who were adversely affected by Hurricane Sally were slated in early October to be given additional assistance in the form of replacements for food that was spoiled during power outages or otherwise damaged or destroyed.

#8. Nevada

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 19.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 221,242
- Average benefit per household: $220 (#38 highest among all states)

Unemployment is down, the poverty rate is decreasing, and the number of residents earning more than $100,00 is growing. Still, Nevada is one of the West's leading suppliers of food stamps and has a 12.4% food insecurity rate.

#7. New York

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 20.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 1,514,547
- Average benefit per household: $237 (#25 highest among all states)

In 2018, 34% of New York City's food pantries and kitchens had to turn people away, reduce portions, or limit operating hours. In the Bronx, over one in four residents experience food insecurity, even as the city's poverty rate approached historic lows ahead of the pandemic. Organizations like City Harvest attempt to combat food insecurity issues and more.

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#6. Oregon

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 21.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 349,537
- Average benefit per household: $210 (#43 highest among all states)

In Oregon, about 553,000 resident Oregonians are food insecure, with almost 200,000 of those being children. The Oregon Food Bank operates 21 regional banks and 1,200 food assistance sites. Additional assistance was made available for SNAP recipients who lost food due to the wildfires in the state.

#5. Louisiana

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 21.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 369,236
- Average benefit per household: $262 (#8 highest among all states)

Almost 5% of Louisiana households skip meals because they lack money to buy food. Some reports list Louisiana as the second-worst state for seniors at risk of hunger. Louisiana is also one of the slowest growing states for personal income and has one of the nation's highest unemployment rates.

#4. West Virginia

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 21.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 158,856
- Average benefit per household: $205 (#47 highest among all states)

Years ago, West Virginia implemented tougher work requirements for food stamps, but The New York Times recently reported that it did not lead to increased levels of employment. Almost 15% of West Virginia households are food insecure.

#3. District of Columbia

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 22.0%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 64,035
- Average benefit per household: $218 (#40 highest among all states)

Seniors and children in the D.C. area are especially affected by food insecurity. Organizations like D.C. Hunger Solutions work to combat the problem, and there are local plans to increase spending on D.C. students.

#2. Rhode Island

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 22.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 90,212
- Average benefit per household: $222 (#37 highest among all states)

Rhode Island has a thriving economy, but food insecurity is growing amid rising costs of living. In recent years, Rhode Island's Asian, black, and Hispanic children live in higher rates of poverty compared to the national average. Dozens of pantries and meal sites help reduce the number of hungry people in Rhode Island.

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#1. New Mexico

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 27.6%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 218,674
- Average benefit per household: $238 (#24 highest among all states)

New Mexico has the nation's highest food insecurity rate at 17.9%. About one in four children are at risk of going hungry, and a high rate of working adults suffer food insecurity. The Public Policy Advocacy Committee of The Food Depot, a food bank in northern New Mexico, recently asked legislators to complete six steps to combat food insecurity problems in the state, including doubling a budget to $500,000 for food banks to purchase more shelf-stable items and appropriating $3.7 million for food stamp recipients to be affected by new federal mandates.

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