Where Massachusetts food stamp money is going

Where Massachusetts food stamp money is going

Over four years of exclusive data show changing trends

Written by
Edited by JPat Brown

The Federal food stamp program, more formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has seen nearly all-time highs in participation, due largely to the “great recession.” For the first time, however, MuckRock is able to provide a deeper look at just how the recession has affected spending trends and to reveal the surprising retailer that has seen a massive spike in SNAP reimbursements over the past five years.

MuckRock has examined data received in response to a freedom of information request filed with the Massachusetts’ Department of Transitional Assistance, which oversees the state-level administration of this federal program. This particular SNAP data set covers financial years 2006 through 2009 (the financial year begins July 1st of the calendar year before); a previous request was fulfilled that responded with a partial data set for the year 2010.

The Department of Transitional Assistance was forthright and helpful in providing the data.

An explosion in SNAP spending

Between financial years 2006 and 2009, according to the data, SNAP reimbursements grew from almost $240 million to almost $559 million, a 132 percent increase in just three years. The greatest increase occurred in the last year for which MuckRock had full data, financial year 2009, which saw a 39 percent spike in just one year.

But where is it all going? The below map, generated automatically via Google Fusion Tables based off the provided data, shows exactly where: Click on a dot to pull up the name of the store, its address and how much money it was reimbursed through the SNAP program.

Below, we’ve compiled the top Massachusetts cities for reimbursements for an idea of demographic shifts between 2006 and 2009.

The data set also illuminated some trends about where the cash-strapped choose to shop.

Market Basket, for example, was reimbursed $79,595,823.22 across 23 locations in FY2009, up from $30,238,166.26.

By comparison, across 43 locations, Shaw’s was reimbursed $29,335,598.65 in FY2009.

Many Whole Foods locations have also seen huge growth, relatively, in SNAP reimbursements. For example, Whole Foods Market #8, based in Brighton, was reimbursed $86,041.16 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, but was reimbursed $260,512.20 in FY 2009, an increase of almost 200%. Other stores, such as the Swampscott location, saw similarly large increases.

In total, across 8 locations, Whole Foods Market took in slightly over $800,000 dollars in FY2009.

If you’d like to examine the data more deeply yourself, look through either the original data set on the request page, the partial 2010 data set, or look at it through the powerful lens of Google Fusion, where we’ve also made it accessible.

Nov. 23, 2010 Correction: An astute reader checked our math. We originally wrote that “Whole Foods Market #8, based in Brighton, was reimbursed $86,041.16 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, but was reimbursed $260,512.20, an increase of almost 300%.” The correct percentage is actually almost 200%, not under 300%.

Image by Paul Sableman via Flickr and is licensed under CC BY 2.0