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SNAP working well in Otter Tail County

Fruits such as cantaloupe and bananas can be purchased by qualifying SNAP participants to help their families in Otter Tail County stretch their household food budgets. Tom Hintgen/Otter Tail County Correspondent.

Minnesota's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a program to help low-income families stretch their household food budgets.

For a family in Otter Tail County, SNAP is not intended to meet all of the household's foods needs. Rather, it is a supplement.

Reviewing this program at the county board meeting on Feb. 13 were Cheryl Ranum and Stacy Shebeck, financial assistance supervisors for Otter Tail County, along with County Human Services Director Deb Sjostrom.

They emphasized to the five county commissioners that with proper nutrition, children learn more easily, adults work more productively, and seniors are healthier and are apt to maintain their independence.

Qualifying families in SNAP can use the food portion of an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card at U.S. Department of Agriculture-authorized food retailers or authorized farmers markets to purchase foods such as breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry and dairy products.

Ranum said that in Otter Tail County, the number of SNAP cases and people served per month decreased from 1,801 in 2015 to 1,699 in 2017.

According to Shebeck, the average payment/case for SNAP benefit per month decreased from $187.61 in 2015 to $184.51 in 2017.

Minnesota law stipulates that on each EBT card is the statement "It is unlawful to use this card to purchase tobacco products or alcoholic beverages."

County Commissioner Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls says the SNAP program is working well in Otter Tail County, adding that abuse of the program is almost non-existent. "County employees keep a watchful eye on fraud," he said.

County Attorney Michelle Elldien said that if abuse of SNAP and/or other programs are brought to the attention of the County Attorney's Office, collection efforts are undertaken.

County Board Chairman Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids praised County Human Services for helping those in need, through SNAP and other programs. "We need to put into perspective what some people are really dealing with," he said.

The Trump Administration has proposed replacing some or all of SNAP with food boxes. Millions of low-income households around the country would be affected.

"This proposal is really a step back in time," says Marcus Schmit of Second Harvest Heartland, St. Paul. "Massive cuts to SNAP would overwhelm our state's network of food banks and food shelves."

The SNAP program will be the topic of hearings in both the House and Senate in the U.S. Congress.