06/03/10 — Food stamp rules changing this July

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Food stamp rules changing this July

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on June 3, 2010 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Health Department food nutrition case manager Shirley Brimage processes an application from a person seeking to receive food stamps. More people will be eligible to receive benefits beginning July 1.

More people in Wayne County will qualify for nutrition benefits through the Food and Nutrition Services program beginning July 1.

People who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level will meet the income requirement to receive food stamps. The previous cutoff was 130 percent of the poverty level. North Carolina was one of the states that opted in to the new federal option to raise the limit.

The state office told the Wayne County Department of Social Services to expect about a 20 percent increase in the number of families who receive the nutrition assistance, county DSS representative Charlene Morris said.

The county currently serves about 9,000 families. In December 2009, 20,165 individuals in Wayne County received nutrition benefits at a cost to taxpayers of $2.5 million. The funding for the program comes from the federal government.

A 20 percent increase in funding would raise the nutrition benefits program cost for Wayne County to about $3 million each month.

Other policy changes are also coming that will affect who qualifies to receive food stamp assistance, Mrs. Morris said. The benefits are based on the number of family members in the home, their income amount and then also the benefit amount.

"Today, if someone came in to apply, we would be looking at how much money they had in a savings account, cash on hand, even a boat, but for the majority of folks, after July 1, that piece of policy would not apply," she said.

However, some households will not qualify for benefits even if they fall under the 200 percent federal poverty level.

If a household member was disqualified from the nutrition benefit program due to an intentional program violation, the household will not be eligible. If the head of household is disqualified for failure to comply with the work program requirements or if any member of the household is disqualified for conviction of a drug felony committed on or after August 23, 1996, it will eliminate them from eligibility.

"So if a household applies, and they have any one of these folks in their home, the new policy will not apply," Mrs. Morris said.

The system, which switched to electronic debit cards from actual "food stamps" years ago, is taking other steps toward accessibility in the digital era. Eventually, there will be an online form applicants can use to see if they will qualify for the benefits without having to come in to the county office. The system is not yet complete, however.

The debit cards may only be used to buy food and cannot be used in certain places.

"You receive a benefit card through the mail, and you can purchase food items. You can't buy hot, prepared foods, like foods cooked at restaurants or delis," Mrs. Morris said.

If a person is interested in applying for benefits, the easiest way is to go to the Web site www.waynegov.com. Applicants can come by the office or retrieve the application on the Web site, print it and mail it in. All applicants must complete an interview, but the office can work with individuals.

"We try to do as many of those on the phone as possible to alleviate someone from having to come in. With the gas prices, we try to accommodate people as much as possible," Mrs. Morris said.

When the state makes available the site for determining eligibility, the Wayne County office will provide a link from the county site.