Written by Jennifer Brady from the Loudoun County Health Department
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Loudoun County was once again named the happiest county in America based on statistics on
happiness indicators such as wealth, marriage rates, life expectancy, and physical activity. With a poverty rate lower than any other county in the US and a median income well into the six-digit range, it is easy to assume that the living is easy here in the DC metro suburbs.
Not included in this sunny picture is that nearly 4% of our population, 13,000 people including 4,000 children, still live below the federal poverty line. In some vulnerable neighborhoods in Loudoun, up to 15% of the entire neighborhood lives in poverty. For some minority populations in the county, poverty is disproportionately affecting families 4:1. Add this to the fact that the cost of living in Loudoun is extremely high and perhaps not everyone finds living here so easy.
Loudoun County boasts great schools, great parks, great libraries, great trails, great bike paths, and great farms which make Loudoun an ideal setting in which to live and raise a family. So how do we lessen the burden of poverty in our region to allow all families to enjoy what the happiest county has to offer? One simple solution may be helping our lower-income residents access the resources available to them.
SNAP, formerly food stamps, is the federal program to provide monetary assistance to lower-income families in order to help offset the cost of purchasing food. Based on household size, income, and expenses, lower-income families may be eligible to receive a monthly allotment of funds in the form of an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card. Access to assistance programs such as SNAP can decrease food insecurity and improve health for SNAP families. A 2013 USDA report showed a 10% decrease in food insecurity for families with children 6 months after they started receiving SNAP benefits. A 2012 longitudinal study at Massachusetts WIC showed that persistent household food insecurity is asso
ciated with 22% greater odds of child obesity compared with those persistently food secure. However, according to Loudoun County’s Department of Family Services, only 1 in 2 families who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are actually enrolled in this service.
Using SNAP at the grocery store is pretty straightforward: families use their SNAP card for purchases the same as a debit card and are only limited in their food choices by restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, non-food items, and ready-to-eat in the store foods. SNAP can also be used at many farmers markets to purchase local produce, meat and food-bearing plants, helping local economic development by supporting small business owners like our local farmers.
In Loudoun County, there are currently 3 farmers markets that accept SNAP and participate in the SNAP Double Dollar Program, a program which provides up to $10 in matching funds for every $10 spent at the market with SNAP funds. These markets are the Leesburg Market on Wednesday and Saturdays, and the Cascades Market on Sundays. With 3 different markets accepting SNAP each week, and 4 weeks in a month, SNAP families could potentially gain an additional $120 a month to spend on fresh and local vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, breads, cheese, and milk. For more information on which markets accept SNAP, please visit INOVA’s Buy Fresh Buy Local SNAP Double Dollar page or the Loudoun Valley Homegrown Markets Cooperative website.
Beyond the benefit of access to food, enrolling in SNAP opens up the doors to eligibility for many other programs including automatic eligibility for the Special Supplemental Nutriton Program for Women, Infant’s and Children (WIC) and direct certification in the Free and Reduced Price Meals program in Loudoun County Public Schools. Participation in Free and Reduced Price Meals then brings about another slew of benefits such as fees waived for participation in sports, music, and arts programs going one step further in reducing the barriers to a healthy and happy Loudoun lifestyle.
So how does someone find out if they are eligible for SNAP and apply to receive benefits?
To apply online, go to the CommonHelp website and either fill out the application or complete the quick “Am I Eligible?” screening tool. Enter as much information as you can, but make sure to pay special attention when entering your address. In order to continue to receive important information about your SNAP benefits, it is imperative that your address is entered accurately and kept up to date on the CommonHelp site.
If you are not eligible for SNAP, consider yourself an advocate for your community members and spread the word about the benefits of enrolling in SNAP and the ease of the online application on the CommonHelp website.
Help make Loudoun County the happiest place to live for all of its residents!