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States where food stamps are used the most

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States where food stamps are used the most

Last summer, the Trump administration proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that can restrict food stamp benefits for about 3 million U.S. residents, and nearly 10% of the people to be affected will be children. More children may lose access to free or reduced school lunches, and states may also lose their flexibility to administer food stamps.

The federal government argues that they are aiming to close loopholes in food stamp distribution, potentially saving $2.5 billion. Resources like food banks remain vital in battling food insecurity, and data shows food stamps create 12 meals for one meal a food bank can provide.

More than a dozen states have joined in a lawsuit to prevent the rule from being enacted in April, claiming the rule "undermines the nutrition program's intent and the U.S. Department of Agriculture violated the rulemaking process." SNAP began as a temporary relief program but became permanent in 1964. In 2017, the federal government spent $70 billion on SNAP. Nationwide, 15.2% of households receive food stamps, with an average cost per household of $237.86.

As many Americans wait to see if the new food stamp laws will come to fruition, millions continue to go hungry throughout the nation. Stacker compiled a list of the states where food stamps are used the most using SNAP data from the USDA. The data was released on Jan. 17, 2020. The number of households and the poverty rate are current as of 2018 data from the Census Bureau. States are ranked by the percent of households that received food stamps in September 2019. The District of Columbia was included in the analysis, but North Carolina was not included since data was not provided. Additional information came from sources like the Center for American Progress, Feeding America, and state websites and local food banks.

Click through 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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#50. Wyoming

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 4.9%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 11,194
- Average benefit per household: $248.78 (#16 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 11.1% (#34 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. Recently, Wyoming instituted work requirements for food stamp recipients.

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#49. Utah

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 7.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 70,918
- Average benefit per household: $266.55 (#5 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 9% (#47 highest among all states)

Utah Food Bank distributes about 38 million meals a year. Utah has a relatively low poverty rate, but the state has problems in the distribution of wealth. Earlier this year, a government shutdown threatened Utah's food stamp funding.

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#48. North Dakota

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 7.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 23,192
- Average benefit per household: $242.73 (#20 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 10.7% (#39 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. Recently, North Dakota became a government target for possible cases of residents abusing aid.

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#47. New Hampshire

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 7.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 38,747
- Average benefit per household: $191.93 (#50 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 7.6% (#50 highest among all states)

Although food insecurity in New Hampshire is less than the national average (about 9.6% to 13%), the state is reporting higher levels than a decade ago. To help combat this trend, New Hampshire uses a Double Up Food Bucks program that provides an additional 50% off certain fresh fruits and vegetables.

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#46. Kansas

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 8.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 93,217
- Average benefit per household: $233.66 (#28 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 12% (#30 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 6.5% sales tax on food can be coupled with local sales taxes in some areas to create an over 10% tax for groceries.

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#45. Nebraska

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 9.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 71,121
- Average benefit per household: $247.17 (#17 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 11% (#35 highest among all states)

Almost one in nine Nebraska residents (including one in six children) struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America. Nebraska is trying to institute a Double Up Food Bucks program similar to New Hampshire's.

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#44. Minnesota

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 9.4%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 205,610
- Average benefit per household: $203.23 (#48 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 9.6% (#44 highest among all states)

Recent numbers show that about 376,000 Minnesotans receive food stamps. With the possibility of federal cuts to food stamp programs, Minnesota joined a lawsuit with several other states to prevent the legislation. Almost 39% of families receiving food stamp assistance have children.

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#43. Indiana

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 259,037
- Average benefit per household: $259.48 (#9 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 13.1% (#20 highest among all states)

Indiana has a robust food bank system, but one in eight residents still struggles with hunger. Just this year, ex-drug offenders finally became eligible for food stamps in Indiana.

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#42. Idaho

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 64,868
- Average benefit per household: $239.40 (#23 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 11.8% (#31 highest among all states)

Idaho has almost 222,000 food-insecure residents. Although the state's Map the Meal Gap initiative has helped provide information that contributed to that number improving almost 1% (about 11,000 residents) from a year ago, according to an annual study.

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#41. Colorado

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 222,430
- Average benefit per household: $231.98 (#29 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 9.6% (#44 highest among all states)

Feeding America says that almost 600,000 Colorado residents "are struggling with hunger." The Colorado Independent reports that 895 residents won't be eligible for work-requirement waivers that grant access to food stamp benefits. Some data suggests that only 60% of low-income residents participate in food assistance programs, indicating a stronger need for food insecurity advocacy.

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#40. New Jersey

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.6%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 344,237
- Average benefit per household: $226.84 (#33 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 9.5% (#46 highest among all states)

New Jersey is densely populated, despite being one of the country's smallest states. New Jersey also has one of the highest costs of living in the nation—median gross rent in New Jersey is $1,295. These factors can contribute to the number of households receiving food stamps.

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#39. Virginia

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 341,208
- Average benefit per household: $241.35 (#22 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 10.7% (#39 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. Last year, Virginia received a $3.8 million penalty for mistakes in processing food stamp applications.

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#38. South Dakota

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 10.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 37,323
- Average benefit per household: $264.93 (#6 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 13.1% (#20 highest among all states)

Poverty rates in South Dakota are slowly decreasing and remain below the national average. However, recent census data shows American Indian residents have a high poverty rate, almost double the next highest race/ethnic group. Proposed federal food stamp changes may particularly affect residents living on reservations.

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#37. Iowa

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 11.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 149,444
- Average benefit per household: $230.93 (#30 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 11.2% (#33 highest among all states)

The Iowa caucuses put a spotlight on issues like poverty in the Hawkeye State. For example, Latinx 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—the state Farmers Union supports federal suggestions for new food stamp rules.

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#36. Montana

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 12.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 52,460
- Average benefit per household: $230.60 (#31 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 13% (#22 highest among all states)

Some Montana residents advocate for BackPack meals, volunteer assistance that provides schoolchildren with lunches—the argument being that food stamps do not cover enough nutrition for the month. With Montana food stamps costing the federal government about $12 million a month, residents are divided on whether new guidelines to the program would help or hurt the state.

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#35. Missouri

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 318,316
- Average benefit per household: $260.13 (#8 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 13.2% (#19 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. Missouri already restricts temporary food stamps.

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#34. Kentucky

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 227,556
- Average benefit per household: $253.26 (#13 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 16.9% (#6 highest among all states)

Kentucky has recently been one of the poorest states in the U.S. Only seven states have a higher food insecurity rate than Kentucky's (14.7%). To combat these issues, Kentucky created a special task force to examine food stamps in the state.

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#33. Wisconsin

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 311,625
- Average benefit per household: $205.75 (#44 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 11% (#35 highest among all states)

Wisconsin's poverty rate is falling, particularly among children. However, Wisconsin's poverty rate for seniors is rising. Also of concern, the University of Wisconsin's Institute for Research on Poverty claims the effect food stamps have in lowering poverty rates are declining.

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Bruce W. Stracener // Wikimedia Commons

#32. Arkansas

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 13.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 158,103
- Average benefit per household: $242.48 (#21 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 17.2% (#5 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 facing hunger needed an average of $43 more per month to buy enough food to meet their needs, even with the Arkansas Foodbank giving out about 26.5 million pounds of food annually, according to 2017 figures.

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#31. South Carolina

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 272,457
- Average benefit per household: $256.46 (#11 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 15.3% (#10 highest among all states)

South Carolina ranks in the middle of the pack nationally for food insecurity (11.7%). There has been some criticism that poverty in South Carolina is particularly hard on millennials. The median household income is $51,015.

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#30. Arizona

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.4%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 375,236
- Average benefit per household: $256.60 (#10 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 14% (#15 highest among all states)

About one in seven Arizona residents lives in poverty. Overall, state poverty levels are falling, but remain above the national average. Estimates show that 6,700 to 30,000 Arizona residents are in danger of losing their food stamp benefits under new federal changes.

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#29. Ohio

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.6%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 684,844
- Average benefit per household: $243.16 (#19 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 13.9% (#16 highest among all states)

Ohio falls just outside of the top 10 states with the worst food insecurity rates. Poverty particularly affects women in Ohio, according to studies. Some residents are sending out flyers and hosting information fairs to let locals know of potential federal changes to food stamp programs.

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#28. Texas

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 1,439,988
- Average benefit per household: $269.93 (#3 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 14.9% (#12 highest among all states)

Texas has a 14% hunger and food insecurity rate. Although the poverty rate in Texas is falling, it remains one of the highest in the nation. Last December, over 100,000 residents filed for food stamp benefits.

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#27. Vermont

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 14.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 38,579
- Average benefit per household: $207.69 (#43 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 11% (#35 highest among all states)

Vermont has an enticing $60,076 median household income and one of the lowest food insecurity rates in the country (9.8%). A new bill to combat food insecurity proposes free school lunches for all Vermont students.

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#26. Maryland

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 332,027
- Average benefit per household: $213.13 (#41 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 9% (#47 highest among all states)

Maryland has a low poverty rate and food insecurity rate (10.4%). Despite these low rates, Maryland is an expensive state to live in. On average, goods and services cost 9.4% more in Maryland than the rest of the U.S., creating a high cost of living.

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#25. Alaska

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 38,335
- Average benefit per household: $375.80 (#2 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 10.9% (#38 highest among all states)

Over a third of Alaskan children live in poverty. Alaskan natives and American Indians are the most affected, and a recent report stated that 20% of Alaskan children "lived in homes without enough food."

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#24. Maine

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 85,996
- Average benefit per household: $195.64 (#49 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 11.6% (#32 highest among all states)

In Maine, urban counties show a much higher rate of residents living below the poverty line. However, Maine's urban areas also produced some of the highest median incomes. Almost 44,000 residents could lose food stamp benefits if new federal regulations are passed.

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#23. Michigan

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.4%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 609,812
- Average benefit per household: $222.25 (#36 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 14.1% (#14 highest among all states)

Michigan's poverty rate continues to drop, but the state has faced some difficult problems in recent years. The water crisis in Flint continues to affect low-income residents. Also, children under five have more than double the poverty rate of senior citizens.

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#22. Connecticut

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 15.4%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 212,861
- Average benefit per household: $225.88 (#34 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 10.4% (#41 highest among all states)

Connecticut was the only state to see its poverty rate significantly rise according to recent census data. Some in the state are working hard to keep the spike in poverty under wraps. The city of Bridgeport is already implementing a program to counteract the federal cuts to food stamps.

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#21. Tennessee

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 420,066
- Average benefit per household: $250.15 (#14 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 15.3% (#10 highest among all states)

Although the number of children living in poverty in Tennessee is falling, the total still amounts to around 200,000, or one out of every eight children. Despite planned federal rollbacks on food stamps, seven counties in Tennessee are exempt from the cuts. Those counties are considered "distressed" by the government.

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#20. California

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 2,118,468
- Average benefit per household: $235.81 (#27 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 12.8% (#25 highest among all states)

California continues to battle a homeless crisis and wildfires that negatively affect low-income residents. The state is pioneering efforts to make food stamp benefits eligible for use in restaurants.

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Lee Cannon // Flickr

#19. Delaware

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 59,840
- Average benefit per household: $229.67 (#32 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 12.5% (#27 highest among all states)

Delaware is one of the few states where poverty rates are increasing, according to some studies. 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 numbers.

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#18. Washington

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 473,056
- Average benefit per household: $204.86 (#47 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 10.3% (#42 highest among all states)

Washington has a low poverty rate and doles out some of the highest average food stamp benefits in the country. To keep the momentum going, Seattle residents can now use food stamps to buy groceries from Amazon. However, some academics believe the poverty levels amid growing wealth in Seattle is "striking."

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#17. Georgia

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 16.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 637,959
- Average benefit per household: $262.40 (#7 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 14.3% (#13 highest among all states)

Poverty in Georgia is steadily declining, but the state still has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. The Atlanta Community Food Bank reports 21.1% of children they serve are food insecure. In recent years, the food bank gave out over 56 million meals.

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#16. Massachusetts

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 17.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 455,252
- Average benefit per household: $205.40 (#45 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 10% (#43 highest among all states)

Massachusetts has one of the lowest average food stamp benefits in the country. The MetroWest region of Massachusetts is struggling 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: 17.6%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 79,998
- Average benefit per household: $463.69 (#1 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 8.8% (#49 highest among all states)

Hawaii gives out the highest average food stamps benefit in the U.S. and has the lowest food insecurity rate nationwide. The Hawaii food bank feeds almost 287,000 residents yearly.

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#14. Illinois

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 18.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 886,924
- Average benefit per household: $246.42 (#18 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 12.1% (#29 highest among all states)

About 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 also joined the multi-state lawsuit against federal cutbacks to food stamp programs.

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#13. Oklahoma

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 18.3%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 271,229
- Average benefit per household: $253.37 (#12 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 15.6% (#9 highest among all states)

Oklahoma's food insecurity is a glaring problem. Hunger Free Oklahoma reports that hunger costs the state "$1.4 billion each year through increased illness and decreased academic achievement." Of Oklahoma's 77 counties, 54 are considered food deserts—defined as areas with scarce amounts of grocery stores and fresh produce.

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#12. Alabama

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 18.4%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 341,373
- Average benefit per household: $249.09 (#15 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 16.8% (#7 highest among all states)

In Alabama, black communities are hit particularly hard by food insecurity. Alabama Possible aims to reduce poverty throughout the state. Alabama political leaders are also criticizing the federal plan to cut back food stamp benefits.

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#11. Pennsylvania

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 18.6%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 943,248
- Average benefit per household: $215.45 (#40 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 12.2% (#28 highest among all states)

More than 36% of households in Pennsylvania receiving food stamp benefits have children. Some young athletes in the Philadelphia area advocate for competing in sports, which they say helps ease food insecurity by keeping them in better shape (improved cardiovascular health, decreased risks of chronic obesity) and decreasing bullying. 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: 18.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 207,204
- Average benefit per household: $239.03 (#24 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 19.7% (#1 highest among all states)

For years, Mississippi has had the nation's highest poverty rate. The difference in child poverty among black and white children in Mississippi is startling: 46% of black children compared to 15% of white children. Last year, the state finally made drug felons eligible for food stamps.

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#9. Florida

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 19.2%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 1,500,656
- Average benefit per household: $217.25 (#37 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 13.6% (#17 highest among all states)

As Florida supplies food stamps to over 1.5 million residents, the state is closing offices that help people sign up for benefits. Still, the poverty rate in Florida is slowly dipping with many food banks throughout the state.

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#8. Nevada

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 19.7%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 222,216
- Average benefit per household: $216.84 (#38 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 12.9% (#23 highest among all states)

Unemployment is down, the poverty rate is decreasing, and the number of residents earning more than $100,00 is growing. Still, Nevada is one of the West's leading suppliers of food stamps and has a 12.4% food insecurity rate.

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#7. New York

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 20.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 1,481,195
- Average benefit per household: $237.51 (#26 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 13.6% (#17 highest among all states)

In 2018, 34% of New York City's food pantries and kitchens had to turn people away, reduce portions, or limit operating hours. In the Bronx, over one in four residents experience food insecurity, even as the city's poverty rate is reportedly reaching historic lows. Organizations like City Harvest attempt to combat these issues and more.

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#6. Oregon

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 21.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 345,676
- Average benefit per household: $209.88 (#42 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 12.6% (#26 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. Almost 19,000 Oregon residents could lose food stamps under new federal guidelines.

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#5. Louisiana

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 21.4%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 371,381
- Average benefit per household: $268.49 (#4 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 18.6% (#3 highest among all states)

Almost 5% of Louisiana households skip meals because they lack money to buy food. Some reports list Louisiana as the second-worst state for seniors at risk of hunger. 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. Rhode Island

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 21.9%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 89,192
- Average benefit per household: $223.40 (#35 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 12.9% (#23 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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#3. West Virginia

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 22%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 161,612
- Average benefit per household: $205.10 (#46 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 17.8% (#4 highest among all states)

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

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#2. District of Columbia

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 22.8%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 65,410
- Average benefit per household: $216.80 (#39 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 16.2% (#8 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, and there are local plans to increase spending on D.C. students.

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#1. New Mexico

- Percent of households receiving food stamps: 28.1%
- Total households receiving food stamps: 223,019
- Average benefit per household: $238.06 (#25 highest among all states)
- Poverty rate: 19.5% (#2 highest among all states)

New Mexico has the nation's highest food insecurity rate at 17.9%. About one in four children are at risk of going hungry, and a high rate of working adults suffer food insecurity. The Public Policy Advocacy Committee of The Food Depot, a food bank in northern New Mexico, recently asked legislators to complete six steps to combat food insecurity problems in the state, including doubling a budget to $500,000 for food banks to purchase more shelf-stable items and appropriating $3.7 million for food stamp recipients to be affected by new federal mandates.

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