Participation of Latino/Hispanic Population in the Food Stamp Program in the South

Year: 2004

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Muhammad, Safdar, and Fisseha Tegegne

Institution: Tennessee State University

Project Contact:
Safdar Muhammad
Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Research
Tennessee State University
3500 John A. Merritt Blvd
Nashville, TN 37209
Phone: 615-963-5824


The Hispanic population is growing rapidly throughout the United States, particularly in the Southern States. The Hispanic population is characterized by high poverty rates among children and the elderly compared to other major demographic groups. Further, the Hispanic population has relatively low educational levels, is disproportionately low income, lacks proficiency in English, and often requires a variety of public assistance programs to support their families. Many in the Hispanic population are not aware of the Food Stamp Program (FSP) and their potential eligibility.

The study objectives were to:

  1. Develop a socioeconomic and demographic profile of the Latino/Hispanic population in the South
  2. Examine the FSP participation of the Hispanic population in Tennessee
  3. Identify barriers to FSP participation by eligible the Hispanic population
  4. Develop programs and strategies to enhance FSP participation among Hispanics.
This study uses Census data to describe poverty rates among the U.S. Hispanic population; State administrative data from Tennessee to analyze FSP participation rates among Hispanics; and survey data collected from Hispanics in Tennessee and Kentucky to describe their participation in FSP.

Census data indicate that poverty rates among Hispanics were higher than those found in the total U.S. population from 1972 to 2003. The highest poverty rate for the total population was 15 percent in 1983. By comparison, the lowest poverty rate for the Hispanic population was 21 percent in 2001, down from a high of 31 percent in 1994. The poverty rate was about 30 percent among Hispanic children and 20 percent among the Hispanic elderly population.

Analysis of Tennessee administrative data showed that participation of Hispanics in the FSP during January-December 2003 increased rapidly, compared to the total population. Total participation increased by 11 percent, but increased by 32 percent for the Hispanic population. Hispanic children increased their participation by 31 percent, exceeding the 20 percent increase for Hispanic adults. In the total population, both children and adults increased their participation by 11 percent. Hispanic participation increased by 35 percent in metropolitan counties, by 24 percent in counties adjacent to metropolitan counties, and by 10 percent in nonadjacent counties. Similarly, participation for the total population increased more in metropolitan counties than in nonmetropolitan counties. The increase for metropolitan counties was 12 percent, lower than the 35 percent increase in Hispanic population.

A survey of Hispanics conducted by the researchers in conjunction with the State Department of Human Services and a faith-based organization serving the Hispanic population in Tennessee and Kentucky showed that government assistance (20 percent), including food stamps, were a primary food source for Hispanics, followed by religious organization (18 percent) and friends (11 percent). Twenty-two percent of Hispanic respondents indicated that they did not know about the FSP, and 23 percent indicated they did not know whether they were eligible.

The results also indicate that 52 percent of the respondents were not comfortable applying for food stamps. One factor may be that the average waiting time when applying for food stamp was 2.86 hours, with 63 percent of the respondents indicating that the waiting time was excessive. The main sources of information about food stamps for the Hispanic population are: church/religious organizations (33 percent), followed by friends (32 percent) and radio/TV/newspapers (7 percent). Respondents also indicated that information about the program would have a broader audience if the FSP used radio/TV/newspapers and religious organizations more frequently as an outreach mechanism. Forty-four percent suggested that participation in the FSP could increase if Spanish-speaking staff were increased, with 20 percent indicating more Spanish materials should be made available, and 12 percent stating that more friendly FSP office staff would increase participation.