States where food stamps are used the most

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April 17, 2021
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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 42 million Americans to face food shortages during 2021. 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).

Stacker compiled a list of the states where food stamps are used the most using SNAP data released 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.

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.

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#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. The state has a relatively low poverty rate, but does have problems in the distribution of wealth.

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#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.

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#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)

Food insecurity in New Hampshire is less than the national average. The state uses a Double Up Food Bucks program that provides an additional 50% off certain fresh fruits and vegetables.

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#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 in Minnesota have children. Benefits in the state have not kept up with inflation, exacerbating hardship for many families.

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#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 eight Nebraska residents (including one in six children) struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America. Nebraska has a Double Up Food Bucks program similar to New Hampshire's.

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#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 became eligible for food stamps in Indiana.

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#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)

More than half a million Colorado residents struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America. About a quarter of a million households in the state received SNAP benefits in 2020, with an average monthly benefit that year of $343.

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#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, more than 72,000 of whom are children. Like many states, during the pandemic those receiving food stamps in Idaho were able to make certain grocery store purchases online for the first time.

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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)


New Jersey's dense population and high costs of living can contribute to the number of households receiving food stamps. In April 2021, New Jersey’s Department of Human Services announced extra food assistance benefits for 231,000 households in the state.

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#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 almost double that of the next highest race/ethnic group. Proposed federal food stamp changes may particularly affect residents living on reservations.

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#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.

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#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, Latino 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.

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#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)

Prior to the pandemic, which exacerbated food insecurity throughout the U.S., more than 110,000 Montanans were challenged with hunger. In 2020, as the coronavirus spread throughout the world, Montana food pantry visits rose 36% over the previous year.

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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.

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#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.

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Bruce W. Stracener // Wikimedia Commons

#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 receiving SNAP benefits on average are unable to meet their food needs with what is distributed each month.

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#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)

Roughly 13.5% of Arizonans live in poverty, according to census figures. The nearly 100,000 seniors in the state who receive SNAP benefits represent less than half of the eligible people in that age group.

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#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 was ranked in 37th place out of all 50 states for its protection of children during the coronavirus pandemic. About 25% of children in the state face food insecurity.

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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)

The CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program gives those 60 and older, those experiencing homelessness, and those with disabilities to use their food benefits at participating restaurants. Those receiving food stamp benefits in the state are required to recertify every six months in what is widely considered to be a complicated process that creates a barrier between those in need and the benefits they are eligible for.

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#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 (13.9%). There has been some criticism that poverty in South Carolina is particularly hard on millennials.

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#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 14.7% poverty rate, among th highest in the country. As in other states, there is a perennial debate in Texas over whether food stamp benefits ought to be used for sugary beverages, energy drinks, and sweets.

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#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)


Poverty disproportionately affects women in Ohio. State legislators and social service advocates have been debating the merits of tightening eligibility and oversight for food stamps and Medicaid benefits.

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#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, these same 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 despite it being an expensive state to live in. On average, goods and services cost 9.4% more in Maryland than the rest of the U.S.

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#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 a higher-than-average median household income and one of the lowest food insecurity rates in the country. But during the pandemic in 2020, a high demand for food assistance overwhelmed service centers throughout the state. The growing emergency led multiple other charities to step up and offer help.

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#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. Rising grocery store costs have put additional strain on food-insecure households.

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#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)

Long lines at Connecticut’s food distribution centers have remained, even as vaccination rates rise throughout the state and country. This is certainly due in part to the fact that low-wage workers in Connecticut were still, as of April 2021, 28% below pre-pandemic employment levels.

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#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 2018 report stated that 20% of Alaskan children are food insecure.

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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)

Michiga has faced some difficult problems in recent years. More than 45,000 residents signed up to receive the settlement from the Flint water crisis that began in 2014 and disproportionately affected low-income residents. Throughout the state, children younger than 5 have more than double the poverty rate of senior citizens.

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#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)

As the country began its COVID-19 recovery, Tennessee’s jobless rate dropped lower than the national average. But the state still has the eighth-highest rate of food security (12.6%) and the fourth-highest rate of housing insecurity.

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#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. Still, some academics have called the poverty levels amid growing wealth in Seattle as "striking."

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Lee Cannon // Flickr

#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 rates in Delaware. Efforts were underway in April 2021 to mitigate the additional pressure COVID-19 caused for impoverished Pennsylvanians, including the extension and expansion of SNAP benefits.

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#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)

Georgia has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. The Atlanta Community Food Bank distributed more than 578 million pounds of food in fiscal year 2019-2020.

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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 has struggled with rising homeless rates and children living in poverty, and research suggests that living in poverty can affect school test scores.

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#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 an extremely low food insecurity rate. The coronavirus pandemic was particularly economically devastating to Hawaii, which depends heavily on its robust tourism industry. During the pandemic, food insecurity in Hawaii ballooned by more than 50%.

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#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)

Hunger Free Oklahoma reports that hunger costs the state "$1.4 billion each year through increased illness and decreased academic achievement." While 45% of eligible schools throughout the U.S. provide no-cost meals to all students, just 15% of Oklahoma schools offer such a service.

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#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)

Roughly 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 joined a multi-state lawsuit in 2020 against federal cutbacks to food stamp programs.

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#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.

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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 33% of households in Pennsylvania receiving food stamp benefits have children. Overall, Pennsylvania's 12.1% food insecurity rate is right in the middle nationally.

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Visit Mississippi // Flickr

#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 disparity in child poverty among Black and white children in Mississippi is striking, with roughly three times as many Black children in need. The state in 2019 made drug felons eligible for food stamps.

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#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)

More than half of Floridian children live below or approaching the poverty line. While 66% of children enrolled in public school qualify for free or discounted school lunches, the state (and the country in general) do not allow aid programs like SNAP to cover feminine hygiene products.

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#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)

Nevada is among the West's leading suppliers of food stamps and has a 12.8% food insecurity rate. More than 10% of households reportedly use high-cost, high-risk forms of credit to make ends meet.

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#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)

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

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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.

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#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. The state has among the highest rates of seniors at risk of hunger in the country. Louisiana is also one of the slowest growing states for personal income and has one of the nation's highest unemployment rates.

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#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)

West Virginia implemented tougher work requirements for food stamps, but The New York Times in 2020 reported that it did not lead to increased levels of employment. More than 15% of West Virginia households are food insecure.

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#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.

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#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 a household food insecurity rate of 15.1%. A high rate of working adults suffer food insecurity.

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