BISMARCK (AP) - The number of North Dakota residents using food stamps to buy groceries has dropped to a three-year low, even as the state's population has risen to an all-time high.
Federal Agriculture Department figures show North Dakota had an average of just under 59,000 people per month receiving food assistance in fiscal year 2012, down from 60,902 in 2011 and 59,888 in 2010. The fiscal year ended Sept. 30.
Federal figures show the number of U.S. residents receiving food stamps monthly increased from 40.3 million in fiscal 2010 to 46.6 million in fiscal 2012.
Arlene Dura, the director of the state's food assistance program, said the decrease in the number of people using food stamps in North Dakota is a result of a strong economy, fueled largely by the oil bonanza in the western part of the state.
"Our caseload has been going down, and we attribute that to the state's low unemployment rate and because income is rising in North Dakota," Dura said.
North Dakota's unemployment rate, at less than 3 percent, is the nation's lowest. U.S. Census Bureau data show North Dakota's population has increased from about 672,500 people in 2010 to nearly 700,000 in 2012.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, paid out $90.6 million in North Dakota in fiscal 2012, down from $95 million in 2010, data show. Nationally, the cost of the program rose from $64.7 billion in fiscal 2010 to $74.6 billion in fiscal 2012.
Congress adopted the Federal Food Stamp Act in 1964 to help needy people buy groceries. The state Department of Human Services heads the program in North Dakota.
North Dakotans enrolled in the program received an average of $128.52 monthly in 2012, down from $132.21 in 2010. Nationally, an average of $133.41 was paid out monthly in the last fiscal year, down from $133.79 in 2010, the USDA said.