The number of area children receiving food stamps more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, according to national data collection project Kids Count.
In 2007, 10 area towns - Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, Middlebury, Monroe, Oxford, Naugatuck, Newtown, Southbury and Woodbury - had a total of 2,662 children receiving assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamps program. By 2009, that number had risen 210 percent to 5,608 according to the findings.
"The cost of living in Fairfield County and around that part of the state is very high," CT Kids Count Director Jude Carroll told Patch. "That area has one of the highest rents in the country and so for the middle and low income folks...they're having to spend a lot more of their earnings just on the cost of their housing. And I think that might lend itself to kids, who might not otherwise be interested in getting food stamps, using them...that to me spells out some of the reasons behind the increasing numbers."
SNAP is run by the United States Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service and helps provide food to over 40 million people around the country each month. Between 2005 and 2007, the towns' SNAP recipients had risen by 156, a modest six percent increase.
The chart below shows the total number of SNAP recipients in area towns over the last 10 years. The full set of Connecticut data is available here.Town 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 Danbury 1,150 1,175 1,311 1,421 3,084 Naugatuck 701 731 846 823 1,468 Bethel 52 77 99 132 316 Newtown 74 54 59 64 182 Brookfield 15 35 27 37 136 Oxford 35 29 57 65 105 Monroe 36 32 27 52 105 Southbury 37 33 36 34 78 Woodbury 20 17 29 16 78 Middlebury 15 16 15 18 56 Totals: 2,099 2,199 2,506 2,662 5,608
The Connecticut-specific data was actually released earlier this year, but has come back into focus with the release earlier this week of new national findings from Kids Count, which describes itself as a "highly regarded data and policy book supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation." That foundation was started in 1948 by the founder of UPS, James A. Casey, and his siblings in honor of their mother, and focuses on supporting and building better futures for disadvantaged children.
"As we've seen in the past, Connecticut almost always ranks among the top 10 states in terms of child well-being," said Carroll in a Kids Count press release. "While this is great for children whose families have not experienced hardship caused by the economic downturn, we need to seriously consider the situations of children whose parents have lost jobs."
According to the findings, Connecticut ranks sixth overall in "key indicators of child health and well-being." The state saw improvements in the number of low birth weight babies, teen deaths and teen dropouts, while reporting greater numbers of infant deaths, child deaths and children without secure parental employment.
There were more troubling trends, however. The data shows almost 30 percent of the state's children are living with parents who do not have secure employment, Carroll said. That mirrors a nationwide trend which saw an 18 percent increase in the U.S. child poverty rate between 2000 and 2009.
"And that makes a lot of sense when you think about how, even before the recession, there was really limited job growth and people were starting to lose their jobs in 2007 and 2008," Carroll said.
Meanwhile, the data also showed 46,000 Connecticut children living in families that had lost their homes to foreclosure since 2007 and 79,000 children living in households where there was at least one parent seeking employment, but unemployed at the time of the data collection.
"Connecticut's overall wealth hides the fact that so many children and families are still suffering from the effects of the recession," said Executive Director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services JimHoran from the press release.
In the Naugatuck area, social services departments are seeing many cases that mirror those state and national trends.
"Parents are definitely much more stressed and overwhelmed with providing for their kids," Naugatuck Youth and Family Services Assistant Director Christina Gamble said. "And in doing therapy, it's particularly difficult to make a lot of changes with the parents when they are overly stressed. It's an added component to a family that's already having problems."
Gamble said her department has seen a stark increase in the number of families asking for "food cards and food referrals," and also sees a huge increase around the holidays in families looking for food and toy distributions.
"We can't accommodate everyone and that's the problem," Gamble said. "We facilitate a back-to-school clothes program, for instance, but there's only so many referrals we can take and provide for."
Gamble said an already tough time is made more difficult by the pressures of waning state funding. During an economic period when families most need state and municipal help, those departments' own futures are in question.
"One day at a time, that's how we cope," Gamble said. "We've had to justify ourselves every year here because we are a department of the town. Financially we're dependent. So, there's always talk of privatizing. But, we're still here...one day at a time."