New Jersey’s Hunterdon County, the hilly region of horse farms and weekend retreats where last year’s median household income was almost $100,000, is a surprising new face of federal food aid.
The percentage of U.S. households using food stamps has more than doubled in six of the 10 wealthiest counties in the nation as more residents find themselves out of work and unable to sell their homes. The increase among counties with more than 65,000 people was greatest in Hunterdon County, according to Census Bureau data compiled by Bloomberg.
Hunterdon, whose 2010 median household income of $97,874 was the highest in New Jersey and fourth-highest in the U.S, saw food-stamp usage surge 513 percent between 2007 and 2010, although the overall numbers are small.
“Sometimes people will come in a Mercedes,” said Gina Davio, 41, program director of social services at Fisherman’s Mark, a non-profit social-services center in Lambertville, a city of 3,900 on the Delaware River. “Sometimes they come in nothing but Ralph Lauren, but you never know: That may be all they have left.”
Nationwide, requests for emergency food assistance increased over the past year in 25 of 29 cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Unemployment led the list of reasons for requesting the aid, followed by poverty, low-wage jobs and high housing costs, according to the survey released today. Eighty-eight percent of the cities reported an increase in the number of persons requesting food assistance for the first time.
In Hunterdon County, the number of households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the $75 billion federal system still widely known as food stamps even after a title change in 2008, increased to 1,424 in 2010 from 232 in 2007.
Neighboring Somerset County, where the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis hunted foxes on horseback and the Far Hills steeplechase is a highlight of the social season, increased its caseload almost threefold, to 3,777, from 1,237. That county, a 45-minute drive from the Lincoln Tunnel to midtown Manhattan, has the eighth-highest household income, at $94,270. Morris County, 10th in the national income rank and home to Governor Chris Christie, more than doubled its food-stamp enrollment to 4,076 cases from 1,680.
Hunger in New Jersey’s wealthier areas is apparent at the Food Bank Network of Somerset County in Bridgewater, which is serving about 3,500 individuals this year, a 35 percent increase from 2010.
“So many people out there are coming from the hills — Bernardsville and Basking Ridge, a lot of Bedminster people,” Marie Scannell, the bank’s executive director, said in a phone interview.