Hurricane Matthew has affected 4.2 million people in North Carolina, stretching across 48 counties. That is more than 40 percent of the entire state’s population. As a result of the flooding in the Eastern part of the state, 800,000 homes lost power, more than 600 roads were closed, and 34 school systems were forced to close. By many measures, Hurricane Matthew has caused more damage than Hurricane Floyd did in 1999. In the Eastern part of the state, 78,000 homes were flooded. That’s 22,000 more homes than in 1999. In all, it is estimated that immediate damages range from $2 billion to $2.5 billion.
In light of the widespread disaster, federal programs such as the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, have played a critical role in providing for residents and helping to stabilize Eastern North Carolina’s disrupted economy. According to NC Department of Health and Human Services, more than 488,000 people have benefited from D-SNAP benefits.
Nearly half are people who were not previously enrolled in the SNAP program. Other beneficiaries received SNAP additional benefits in order to replace damaged and lost food. These supports come at a critical time. The flooding affected 30,000 businesses, putting 40,000 people either temporarily or permanently out of work. As schools remained closed for weeks, children in low-income families were unable to take advantage of the free or reduced school lunch program. In addition to providing food assistance to residents in need, disaster SNAP pumped just under $70,000,000 into local businesses. In places like Robeson County, where flooding was catastrophic, one in three residents received Disaster SNAP benefits, delivering more than $6.5 million into the local economy.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program is one of the most effective and valuable tools we have in fighting poverty. On average, SNAP benefits lifted 175,000 North Carolinians, including 81,000 children, out of poverty from 2011 to 2014. With error rates at an all-time low, SNAP’s extensive quality control measures have made it extremely efficient. In the past decade, the number of states with “outstanding performance” (error rates below 6 percent) has increased from 13 to 47 states – including North Carolina.
SNAP benefits, which are largely tied to the health of the economy, prove invaluable in times of dire need. Whether it is a natural disaster such as Hurricane Matthews, or an economic recession, SNAP works to stabilize families and communities.
Brian Kennedy is a Public Policy Fellow at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.