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Report: Rural Students, Not Urban Ones, Are Top Users of Food Assistance

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) affects a higher percentage of families in rural areas than other areas, and may be especially vital for families with senior citizens and children, according to a new report.

The Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska examined census data from 2008-2012 to see where participants in the program live. Between 2008 and 2012, more than 14 percent of households in rural areas received SNAP benefits, a higher percentage than urban areas, small cities, and the national average of about 11 percent. Rural areas also have a higher percentage of eligible residents who choose to participate in the program compared to urban areas.

The report found that a higher percentage of children and senior citizens rely on SNAP benefits in rural areas than in urban areas, and concluded that the stereotype of SNAP as an urban, minority program is inaccurate. "SNAP is a critical program to address food insecurity in rural America and to combat rural hunger," wrote the authors of the report. "Any changes in SNAP and SNAP funding are likely to disproportionately affect rural families and rural communities."

Research shows that rural children are more likely than their urban peers to suffer from a range of health issues, like obesity, asthma, or diabetes, which has been partly attributed to a lack of healthy and affordable foods in rural areas.

Across the country, more than 13 million households receive SNAP money, which provides funds for low-income families to purchase healthy foods, seeds, and food-producing plants. Although urban households tend to have higher rates of food insecurity than rural households, rural areas face unique challenges in obtaining healthy food, such as a few public transportation options and lower incomes from a lack of high-wage jobs.

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