Food stamp rates vary racially

The news: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People criticized presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for saying that African-American communities should “demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

Behind the news: Nationally, far more white people participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program than African Americans, but the opposite is true for Illinois.

On the national level, white people make up 48.3 percent of the program’s participants compared with 29.7 percent for African Americans. In Illinois, 45.4 percent of participants are African American, and 22.9 percent are white.

Evelyn Brodkin, a political scientist and associate professor at the University of Chicago, said the disparity on the national level is connected in part to a complicated application process that puts minorities with less education and deeper poverty at a disadvantage.

“It shouldn’t take a college degree to figure out how to get food stamps,” Brodkin said. “There’s lots of room for error and confusion. We think some people just can’t get through all of that as effectively as others.”

In Illinois, Brodkin said, nonprofits have put a lot of effort into minority outreach and increasing food stamp participation—which may explain the high number of African Americans in the program.

According to data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Illinois is home to 3.9 percent of the nonprofits nationwide that specialize in food, agriculture and nutrition. Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, a Chicago-based nonprofit, for instance, offers a program for people who need supplemental nutrition and cash.

“It takes a long time to process and to get the benefits,” said Jill Geltmaker, managing director of Heartland’s employment and economic advancement division. “That can be confusing for people who have never navigated the system before. It’s important for people who have lost employment and now need to find supplemental resources.”

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