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Published February 11, 2011, 04:00 PM

Record Number of North Dakotans Using Food Stamps

A record number of North Dakotans are using food stamps to buy groceries, coinciding with the state's population growth but contrary to its robust economy, the director of the state Data Center says.

By: James MacPherson, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A record number of North Dakotans are using food stamps to buy groceries, coinciding with the state's population growth but contrary to its robust economy, the director of the state Data Center says.

North Dakota had an average of 59,888 people per month receiving food assistance in fiscal 2010, up from 53,070 in 2009, said Richard Rathge, the Data Center director and North Dakota demographer. The fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

Rathge said the federal Agriculture Department figures show "an apparent contradiction" with North Dakota's strong economy that has been fueled largely by the state's booming oil patch.

North Dakota's unemployment rate of 3.8 percent is the nation's lowest.

"We have a growing and robust economy but this is a reminder that there are still folks out there in need," Rathge said.

Part of the increase in the number of food stamp recipients is likely due to the state's recent spike in population, he said.

The U.S. Census Bureau's most recent count pegged North Dakota's population last year at 672,591, up from 635,938 in 2005. The number of food stamp recipients has jumped by 17,684 during that time, federal figures show.

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, paid out more than $95 million in fiscal 2010, up from $79.5 million in 2009, USDA figures show. The jump reflected a one-time increase of $12.9 million in federal stimulus funding, state officials said.

North Dakotans enrolled in the program received an average of $132.21 monthly in fiscal 2010, up from $124.94 for the same period in 2009. Nationally, an average of $134 was paid out monthly in the last fiscal year, up from $125 in 2009, the USDA said.

Federal figures show 8.9 percent of North Dakotans get food stamps monthly, compared with 13.1 percent nationally.

Congress adopted the Federal Food Stamp Act in 1964 to help needy people buy groceries. The state Department of Human Services heads the program in North Dakota.

A family of four in North Dakota can apply for food stamp aid with a gross income of less than $2,389 per month. The qualifying monthly income limit for a one person household is $1,174, the agency said.

Human Services Department spokeswoman Heather Steffl said about 42 percent of the households that get assistance have earned income.

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