Chase Bank Receives Millions From Washington’s Food Stamp Program

One of Occupy Seattle’s biggest nemeses—JP Morgan Chase Bank—has seen a bit of a windfall in Washington State over the last few years as the size of the state’s Chase-run food stamps program has ballooned during the Great Recession.

Washington’s food stamp program now serves just over one million people, or about one in every seven state residents, with nearly 150,000 signing up for the program in the last two years alone. For every new unemployed or underemployed person who uses state assistance to put food on their table, the state pays out more money to Chase.

In 2009, Washington paid Chase $7,610,001.04 for the  858,000 people on the food stamp assistance program. This year, that number climbed to $9,857,288.

“I think what you’re finding is during these unprecedented economic times [is that] more and more people are losing their jobs,” says Department of Social and Health Services Communications Director Kathy Spears. “Some of it has to do with the fact that people who have lost their jobs in the last few years are have used up all their unemployment benefits.”

Since 1995, Washington’s food stamp program has been run through Chase (then CitiGroup), when our state teamed up with Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, and Arizona to “leverage” a deal with Chase, which makes the state’s Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and processes payments.

In 2008, Washington reupped on its deal, getting a better per-user rate—a 30% reduction in costs, Spears says—locking the state into a contract with Chase through 2014.

Despite the unpopularity of big banks these days, Spears says a large institution like Chase is best equipped to run the state’s food stamp program. Besides, if the state walked away from its deal with Chase, Washington would incur a $7.5 million penalty.

“We’re continuing to work with JP Morgan Chase on this,” Spears says.