Imagine a program where every dollar spent generates between $1.73 to $1.84 in gross domestic product (GDP).

Too good to be true?
Think again. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – commonly called food stamps -  is one of the quickest ways to create much-needed economic growth according to Moody's Economy economist Mark Zandi – who advised the late Sen. John McCain. 
Zandi found for every $1 increase in SNAP payments generates $1.73 in GDP. A Department of Agriculture study during the Bush Administration found even better numbers. A $1 in SNAP generates $1.84 in GDP, according to a 2012 story in the Atlantic.
“When SNAP participants redeem their monthly allotments at grocery retailers throughout their community, it boosts local and state economies and creates positive and immediate downwind effects for many,” Zandi wrote in a 2008 report. “Receiving SNAP also allows households to spend money elsewhere in the economy that would have otherwise gone toward food.”
On paper SNAP is an American success story. So why are so many families in the Cape Fear Region living under the poverty line not receiving benefits? In New Hanover County alone, about 64 percent of households below the poverty line are not in the Nutrition Assistance Program. Experts say several factors are in play ranging from barriers to access to stigma.
Dr. Jill Waity, a UNCW assistant professor of sociology, said there are a myriad of reasons why people don’t get support ranging from felony drug convictions that prohibit benefits to lack of access because they are homeless or lack transportation or Internet. This issue also transcends racial demographics, with underutilization occurring across the community.
“We can’t be talking about race alone,” said Sarah Daniels with the Cape Fear Food Council. “When I look at the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, they looked at race and class. We’re not unifying voices across class. If you’re poor, you’re poor.” 

One of the hurdles in the Hispanic community is immigration status. Waity said some Hispanic families are reluctant to apply for benefits because of a federal rule that prohibits immigrants who receive food, health or housing aid from getting permanent residence. The Urban Institute found one in three adults in immigrant households with a member who is not a permanent resident avoided applying for benefits in 2019.

Steve McCrossan, executive director of Nourish NC, said his organization is providing information in its food backpacks, but is looking at ways to make it easier to sign up for benefits including having staffers on site to help people register families.

“I think that could be a game changer,” he said.

Another major hurdle is stigma, especially in rural areas. Weity said most small communities have one grocery store and it is widely known who uses SNAP.

“Using government services takes away your moral capital,” she said. “You’re branded and stigmatized. Using food stamps in small towns is unacceptable.”
The issue has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. The pandemic crippled the nation’s economy putting stress on the network of food banks, evident from NC 2-1-1 data highlighted in past newsletters. The solution was expanding SNAP, according to anti-hunger leaders. They called on Congress to expand the program by 15 percent or $25 per month, according to a June 2020 Politico story, because buying food is more effective than food pantries. One meal from a food bank equals nine in the SNAP program.
But the request was rejected by Congress. Instead, lawmakers gave states the ability to give emergency allotments to boost SNAP benefits for the duration of the emergency and Pandemic EBT was launched to give families a one-time payment to make up for meals missed at school. Both moves were applauded by anti-hunger advocates but the programs are too small to have any lasting impact. Food insecurity is just a symptom of the bigger issue of poverty.
“We have to treat what is causing the wound,” Daniels said. “Once the opportunity is there to engage around the issue, solidarity comes oozing out. Once people are given permission to talk about [poverty] across racial groups there is unification.”

In a community that has very limited philanthropic resources, leaving so much support untapped greatly limits our community’s ability to make progress across several fronts from child development to public health. The path to recovery and a thriving community will be a long and arduous one and we can all go a lot farther on a full stomach.
This week, we wanted to focus on the populations who are receiving SNAP benefits, trying to identify areas or groups that may require assistance. The graph below shows the proportion of the population living below the poverty line that receives SNAP. Additionally, we explored the household member composition for these households.
-There is a clear discrepancy between the population living below the poverty level and those receiving SNAP. For example, in New Hanover County, about 64% of the people below the poverty line are not in the Nutrition Assistance Program.

-According to the data, most of the households that receive Food Stamps or SNAP have female householders, i.e single mothers with children under 18yrs. 

-However, Pender County is an exception to this trend. About 46% of the households receiving food stamps there consist of married householders with both parents present.
 For more information on the census, check out Visit to fill out the census today!

To learn more about the Cape Fear Collective’s data and analytics work, click here. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions on data sets or analysis send us an email at or look us up on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
In this episode of Community Voice, we're talking with Tracey and Girard Newkirk about the opening of Genesis Block.

Genesis Block will be located in downtown Wilmington providing startup and small business support services and a forum for community, collaboration, and creativity. We talk about the pending opening, how the pandemic has transformed their services and developing the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Listen here and check out the rest of our content here.
Cape Fear Collective and the Wilmington Chamber partnered with RTI International to bring a comprehensive skills analysis to our six-county region. Only a couple weeks left to have your organization included. The data will be used to inform economic recovery efforts in our region. Take 10-minutes today to shape tomorrow's workforce. Click here to complete the survey.


UNCW’s Dr. Rachel Carroll, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, and Dr. Mark Lammers, professor and director of UNCW’s Data Science Program, have developed two tools that track COVID-19 cases in the Cape Fear region.
Carroll created a spatial-temporal tool that maps COVID-19 in the United States, North Carolina, and the Cape Fear Region. Lammers developed a visualization tool that tracks COVID-19 cases by county in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Both tools update daily using data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
SHARE Cape Fear provides an online portal for nonprofit organizations, including faith-based groups and churches with 501(c)3 status, to build a profile, set up a wish list, and call for volunteers. Neighbors to the site are able to connect with those organizations and sign up to help either through monetary or goods donation or volunteering. Registration for SHARE Cape Fear is free. For more information, visit
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