It's an old, old problem: Tens of thousands of Minnesotans could benefit from food stamps but don't, and the reasons are pride and ignorance.
This week, officials from nearly 3,000 businesses, advocacy groups and government units launched a statewide campaign to help 300,000 or so Minnesotans apply for the program that helps people in need to buy food.
Last year, 524,000 Minnesotans received $668 million in food stamps -- now given to recipients on plastic "electronic benefit cards." To match the federal name, state officials just renamed it the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Led by Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, the Minnesota Nutritious Food Coalition will use advertising, fliers, posters and personal contacts to spread the word over the next three years.
A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that one in 10 Minnesotans sometimes struggles financially to get enough food, and about half are forced to eat less or skip meals.
"No one should go hungry," Prettner Solon said. "There are people who need help, and you can see they get it."
State officials don't know exactly the size of the gap between people who participate and those who are eligible. But the participation rate is lower among older people. That's why the campaign will seek to tell seniors that after a lifetime as supportive citizens, they've earned the food benefit if they need it. Also targeted will be people who recently lost jobs and don't know they're eligible.
Minnesotans qualify if they earn 165 percent of poverty or less, about $17,970 a year for one or $24,270 for two. The average monthly benefit last year was about $118. More participation could bring about $75 million more in federal money, Prettner Solon said. For help:
• State Food Support website: www.startribune.com/a941.
• Minnesota Food Helpline: 1-888-711-1151.
• Minnesota Senior LinkAge Line: 1-800-333-2433.
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