Woonsocket's Food-Stamp Economy

Over the weekend, the Washington Post published a long story by Eli Saslow on the role that food stamps play in the weakened economy of Woonsocket, a small Rhode Island town.

Saslow reports that one third of Woonsocket's residents received SNAP -- supplemental nutrition assistance program -- benefits that allow them to purchase staples at stores around the town. The aggregate $2 million SNAP injects into Woonsocket generates a monthly flurry of activity, Saslow reports, as folks just scraping by at the end of the month crowd grocery stores to buy food with SNAP funds. Saslow follows a young cash-strapped family on SNAP trying to make ends meet and a grocery store owner who plans his inventory and labor around the first of the month when many of his customers get food stamp funds.

Saslow's well-told story is interesting because, as far as policy hooks go, it has them all. There's a straightforward policy angle: some states have staggered SNAP deposits and avoided the first-of-the-month rush that roils the Woonsocket economy. It's also hard to ignore the backdrop of the post-industrial labor market and the role that family formation plays in the main characters' economic struggles. Saslow also hints at the part that local business interests play in lobbying for increased and liberalized food stamp spending. It's also a helpful reminder that the reality in the hinterlands is so far removed from what's happening in D.C., where times have never been better.

Joseph Lawler is editor of RealClearPolicy. He can be reached by email or on twitter.

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