This article was co-written with Medill classmate Alex Rudansky (@alexandra_kane) as part of a series using databases to analyze Will County, Illinois.
As Will County’s population and poverty rates increase, the number of households receiving government aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has risen from 2 percent to 8 percent in the last decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of the more than 80,000 people in Will County who are “food insecure,” 57 percent have incomes that are too high to qualify for government aid, said Donna Lake, a spokeswoman for Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB).
“There’s a growing number of people who are not eligible for food stamps that need food assistance,” Lake said. “They find themselves food insecure, which means at some point they don’t have enough food to feed their family.”
Currently 8 percent of Will County households receive aid from SNAP, compared with 1 percent in Cook County and 13 percent in Kankakee, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Only a third of the households below the poverty level receive SNAP benefits in Will County, compared to roughly 50 percent in Kankakee and Cook counties.
Lifelong Will County resident Ellistine Yarborough was shopping at Certified Warehouse Foods in downtown Joliet and said she “would love to” receive aid from SNAP. The problem? She makes too much money. As a retiree, Yarborough said her social security benefits put her above the threshold to qualify for the program. Meanwhile, her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all use LINK cards, a government issued debit card, to redeem their SNAP benefits, she said.
Certified Warehouse Foods is one of many stores in the Joliet region to accept LINK cards and also offers a food voucher program with local aid organizations such as the Salvation Army. The organizations pay Certified Warehouse Foods in advance for food vouchers, which they distribute to people in need, said Ken Clymer, who has overseen the voucher program for 24 years as owner of Certified Warehouse Foods.
“It’s [the voucher program] a way for the consumer in this area to get the items they need,” Clymer said.
More than 60,000 people each week rely on food from the NIFB, a 65 percent increase from 2006, according to data provided by the organization. NIFB distributes food to 55 organizations in Will County, Lake said.
In the last year, the federal government supplied 18 percent of NIFB’s food and 12 percent of their overall funding. This support is expected to be cut in half within the next year, Lake said.
The food bank is already feeling the repercussions.
“In September, the food was 60 percent less than what we received in the previous year.”
Daniel Simmons, a pastor and lieutenant for the Joliet Salvation Army, said the need for food in the area is high, even for those on SNAP.
“Food goes pretty quickly even if you do get food stamps,” he said. “People are like ‘I ran out for the month in a few weeks.’ They’re struggling still.”