HANCOCK COUNTY — Local soup kitchens and food pantries are preparing for a spike in demand this fall when as many as 260 county residents could lose access to government food aid.
Adults 18 to 49 who aren’t disabled, don’t provide for any dependents or work 20 or more hours a week are now required to attend a training program to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. The federal requirements were dropped in 2009 during the economic recession but resumed in July as the state’s unemployment rate continued to drop.
If SNAP recipients who no longer meet requirements don’t demonstrate that they’re working part time or participating in an approved program, they’ll be dropped from the program. Of the 4,562 Hancock County residents who receive those benefits, a little less than 6 percent are at risk of losing them, according to data from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which administers the program.
The SNAP program issues about $125 monthly to each recipient in the county. That could mean a loss of up to $32,500 each month for needy individuals from the area who previously qualified for the benefits.
People at risk of losing benefits received a mailing in July about the new requirements. Benefits were extended for a three-month grace period, which expires at the end of this month.
Officials from food pantries and charitable organizations in Hancock County anticipate being able to make adjustments to keep up with increased demand, but some leaders from statewide nonprofits are concerned about the fallout.
Lucinda Nord, vice president of public policy for the Indiana Association of United Ways, said she’s worried about people who might slip through the cracks.
“Experience in other states has shown that there are some individuals who may have debilitating health issues, have just been disabled but are waiting for disability or have mental health or substance-abuse disorders that prevent them from working,” she said.
She cited an example: A 48-year-old caregiver looking after a sick parent technically would fall short of requirements despite deserving aid.
“While technically not working 20 (hours) a week outside the home, we would want to find ways to meet her work requirements so she doesn’t lose her SNAP,” she said.
Nord is directing those who might lose benefits to the Indiana Manpower and Comprehensive Training program, a state government-supported initiative aimed at connecting individuals with the resources needed to secure employment.
Marni Lemons, deputy director of communications for the state office of Family and Social Services Administration, said the program seeks to help participants achieve self-sufficiency.
“The program will assess what current skills and education (an individual) possesses then help connect them with education and job resources to train them to work,” she said. “The hope is that, once someone gets back to work, they won’t require the assistance that SNAP provides.”
Statewide, Lemons said, about 25 percent of those at risk of losing benefits already have entered the training program.
“Of course, we want to see that number rise,” she said.
Tom Ferguson, president of the Hancock County Food Pantry, said he’s dealt with influxes in the past and he’s prepared to do so again.
“We always have some inventory in the facility to accommodate for unforeseen increases,” he said. “If we see a dramatic increase, we’ll react accordingly to prepare for the next month.”
Ferguson said that might mean asking community members for more support, whether that’s through donations or volunteer hours.
Judy Crist, longtime board member of the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, said she, too, is optimistic about the facility’s capacity to deal with more patrons.
She said the facility usually feeds about 140 people a day, but that number fluctuates and has been as high as 175 in the past.
“We’ll certainly try to keep up,” she said. “If not, we’ll let the community know, and we’ll ask for more help.”
County residents receiving SNAP benefits: 4,562
County residents at risk of losing benefits: 260
Average monthly SNAP benefit: $125
Potential loss in public assistance per month: $32,500
“We’ll certainly try to keep up. If not, we’ll let the community know, and we’ll ask for more help,”
Judy Crist, Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, on the possible spike of people needing assistance after losing access to government aid