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Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Record number seek food aid

2,000 local residents currently on SNAP

By Shelley Grieshop

The number of residents using SNAP reached an all-time high in 2009 due to the e. . .

Local officials say a record number of individuals and families became food stamp recipients in 2009, as the U.S. economic crisis hit home.
Approximately 2,000 Grand Lake residents joined the program (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]) last year, officials said. The rise in the number of local people seeking assistance has far-reaching affects, including the increased workload on the staff at the Jobs and Family Services (JFS) agencies in Mercer and Auglaize counties who handle the food stamp program.
"The caseload, combined with staff reductions and funding, has been a large burden for the agency," says Terry Couts, human resources officer for the Mercer County agency.
State and local funding cuts continue to plague all county agencies, officials told The Daily Standard. Couts credits his staff's "do-whatever-it-takes" attitude for keeping up with the demand, so far.
Across the nation, 7 million people joined SNAP between August 2008 and August 2009, according to a study by the Brookings Institution and First Focus, a bipartisan child advocacy group.
During that same time, Ohio experienced an 18 percent increase in participants, as well as an increase in unemployment statewide from 7 percent to 10.5 percent.
Couts' data shows 1,456 Mercer Countians were receiving SNAP in August 2007, compared with 2,657 two years later.
"As far as we can tell, currently we are still seeing a gradual increase" in people seeking assistance to obtain food, Couts said.
In August 2009, Mercer County residents were issued about $360,000 in SNAP. In Auglaize County, more than $529,000 worth was distributed that same month.
Lena Goldenetz, public assistance administrator for JFS in Auglaize County, said the agency helped 1,349 families obtain SNAP in December 2008. Last year, that number rose to 1,741 and it continues to increase.
The Auglaize County department also has dealt with funding and manpower shortages. However, it's the increase in new clients that affects them emotionally each day, Goldenetz said.
"It seems like every day there are new faces coming through the door," she said. "It's really sad."
The food stamp program has undergone several changes in recent years. Instead of paper coupons, clients now use ATM-type cards. Also, eligibility standards have been adjusted to aid more people. To become eligible, Ohio residents must earn less than 130 percent of poverty guidelines. For example, a family of four must have an income below $28,665 and no more than $2,000 in the bank.
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