09/27/11 — Wayne County gives out millions in food stamps

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Wayne County gives out millions in food stamps

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 27, 2011 1:46 PM

Benefits paid to Wayne County residents through the Disaster Food and Nutrition Services program (formerly called food stamps) are expected to reach $2 million.

As of Saturday morning, 3,587 applications for the benefits had been entered into the state system by Department of Social Service workers. Of that amount, 239 denied because they failed to meet eligibility requirements.

It is expected to be later today before the final totals are available, said Debbie Jones, DSS director.

In the days following Hurricane Irene, close to 5,000 people flooded the local DSS office in hopes of replacing food that was lost because of power outages caused by the storm.

However, it wasn't until the county was added to the list of eligible counties by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services that the benefits became available.

The applications were taken from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday of last week at the former Sportsman's World building on East Ash Street.

Normally the disaster assistance quickly follows a disaster, this time the county had more time to plan and set up the program and that helped it operate more efficiently, Ms. Jones said.

"We did have several clients comment on how efficient it was run," she said.

The county had 25 DSS employees taking the applications, while those in the Disaster Food and Nutrition Services program remained at the DSS office to enter the information into the state system.

"The application is pretty basic asking about income, any loss of income due to storm, damages to home and food loss due to power outages," Ms. Jones said. "We saw a lot of people coming from surrounding counties, Duplin, Lenoir and Wake. By (the end of the week) word had gotten around."

However, only Wayne County residents were eligible to apply.

Eligibility depended on the income and number of people in the family. People were asked their income, but were not required to show proof of income.

Residents who are receiving Food and Nutrition Services benefits did not have to apply and were automatically eligible for supplement assistance. People not receiving the benefits could qualify for temporary assistance for a month if their home was damaged or destroyed; they have disaster-related expenses; they lost income; or if they had food loss as a result of a power loss of at least eight hours from Hurricane Irene.

All government employees -- state, county and federal -- are guaranteed for an audit if they received the benefits, Ms. Jones said. The program is somewhat similar to the tax system and other people who received the benefit could be subject to being audited, too, she said.

Cards have different amounts that the Food and Nutrition state computer program automatically assigns based on income and number of people in household, she said. Those who qualify were issued a debit card and an 800 telephone number to call to activate the card and to find out how much is on it.

People have 30 days to spend the money on the card.

"Most of the money will be spent in the county," Ms. Jones said.