Justin Majamay is one of 47,731 Hawaii County residents receiving an increase in 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, commonly referred to as food stamps.
SNAP benefits will decrease nationwide starting in November. The cuts are planned after a temporary increase to food stamps, funded by the federal stimulus package, expires Thursday. The increase occurred in 2009, after Congress added 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 hardship.
When the increase expires, a family of four living in New Hampshire, for instance, will go from receiving $668 a month to $632.
But, in Hawaii, a family of four receiving $1,065 per month in SNAP benefits saw that amount increase to $1,100 per month 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 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 more expensive in Hawaii than on the mainland, 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 greater, the poverty guidelines for Hawaii are, as well.
But while SNAP benefits and the number of recipients are increasing, unemployment has been declining.
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 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.”
For more information, visit a local processing center, apply online at humanservices.hawaii.gov or contact Villasista at 217-5129.
Email Megan Moseley at firstname.lastname@example.org.