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Food stamp recipients rise

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County is continuing to see increases in the number of people receiving food stamps, but the rate of the climb appears to be leveling off.

Over the last five years, the number of people receiving help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has gone up 47 percent.

At the end of September 2008, the number of recipients was 10,959. At the end of this September, the number was 16,088. Last year, the figure for the same period was 15,773. The figures include those receiving food benefits who also are receiving temporary assistance.

“We have had increases all along, but the increase for the last year has been a little smaller,” county Department of Social Services Commissioner Christopher R. Rediehs said. “I would like to hope 2014 will be an easier time for residents of St. Lawrence County.”

St. Lawrence County’s unemployment rate in July was 9.1 percent — the third-highest in the state — but it represented a slight decrease from the same period a year earlier. The county’s unemployment rate also showed a drop from 10.3 to 9.1 percent when comparing August 2011 figures with those of August 2013.

“It’s encouraging,” Mr. Rediehs said.

Many people who receive SNAP benefits have jobs, he said.

“Most are working,” Mr. Rediehs said. “It’s just they’re piecing jobs together and they’re not lasting. My understanding is that, across the country, people have turned to food stamps.”

Laura C. Cerow, DSS commissioner in Jefferson County, said that while the department is monitoring the numbers closely, it hasn’t seen an unusual increase in applications for SNAP or temporary assistance.

“Our numbers are a little bit up, but they always are this time of year, because people get laid off from seasonal employment. It’s not an unusual number so far. That could change with the shutdown of the federal government,” Mrs. Cerow said.

A total of 15,840 people were receiving SNAP benefits in Jefferson County as of July. Statewide, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits has risen from between 1.3 million and 1.6 million to more than 3 million in 10 years.

In St. Lawrence County, the number of people on temporary assistance also has gone up. In 2008, there were 1,689 people receiving temporary assistance. At the end of September 2012, that number had grown to 2,099. At the end of September this year, there were 2,236 people receiving the benefit.

“I think people who avoided seeking help for a long time are finally coming in,” Mr. Rediehs said. “We’re very much aware these are challenging times.”

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