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‘Food insecurity’ may be high, but states are still saying no to federal food-stamp support

More than one in seven households were unable to get access to quality food  at some point over the past three years, according to a new federal report. But that hasn’t stopped some states from refusing federal food-stamp support in an effort to coax recipients back to work.

Some 14.7 percent of American households nationally were either unable to get access to quality food or went hungry at some point in the last three years, according to a new Agriculture department report out  Wednesday. And that rate varied dramatically by state.

Mississippians topped the list, with 20.9 percent having experienced so-called ‘food insecurity’ from 2010 to 2012. Arkansas followed with a 19.7 percent rate, while the rate was 18.4 percent in Texas. North Dakotans suffered least from food insecurity, with the rate there at 8.7 percent. Virginians followed with just 9.2 percent suffering from food insecurity. And New Hampshire was next with a 9.9 percent rate.

The national rate has held relatively steady since 2008, leading advocates to argue the food-stamp program—officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP—must be maintained and critics to argue that removing it would push unemployed Americans back to work.

“SNAP is not the reason that jobless individuals are not working,” says Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities think tank. “It’s the labor market.”

Under federal law, able-bodied adults without dependents can receive a maximum of three months’ worth of food stamps in a three-year period, unless they work 20 hours a week or participate in a work-training program. But a federal waiver has allowed those individuals in most states to continue to receive benefits. Kansas announced  Wednesday that it will become the latest state to decline renewing that exception when it expires at the end of the month.

“The Kansas Department for Children and Families says it wants to encourage employment over welfare dependency,” the Associated Press reports. That decision would affect an estimated 20,000 Kansans.

Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming and Utah don’t use the waiver, while Oklahoma and Wisconsin plan to let it expire, too, the AP reports.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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