Susan Musson runs the food bank in downtown Wellington, where families who qualify can pick up a week’s worth of food and sundries once a month. It’s a way, she says, for her Sumner County neighbors to stretch their budgets.
The shelves are stacked with donated cans of food, toothpaste, bags of macaroni. They don’t stay stacked for long.
“We give them meat and cereal and vegetables,” Musson says. “Fruit if we have it. Personal care items. Basic needs.”
Kelli McComb is an accountant in Wellington and a member of the county’s Healthcare Advisory Board. She says poverty — often considered an urban challenge — is a reality in rural America too.
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“I have people come into my office every day, worried about how they’re going to get their next meal,” she says. “And they’re worried about (budget) cuts, because a lot of what is helping them get through comes from the government.”
Sumner County’s safety net is paid for in part by Washington.
In fiscal year 2012, an average of 2,475 Sumner Countians received food stamps every month — more than 10 percent of the people who live there. Food stamps in Sumner County cost federal taxpayers more than $3.5 million that year, about $120 a month for every recipient.
In 2010 the government sent $356,472 to Sumner County for the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental food program, known as WIC.
Other federal programs are available in Sumner County as well. In 2010, the government spent $2.4 million to subsidize low-income housing loans. It spent another $276,589 on Section 8 housing assistance. Another $377,720 helped low-income residents with their energy costs.
The biggest driver of federal social safety-net spending in Sumner County? Health care.
In 2010, Washington spent more than $16.2 million here on Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health services for younger clients.
Almost 3,700 patients in the county get Medicaid help in an average year, roughly 15 percent of the population.