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Almost 1 in 10 Floridians on Food Stamps

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BY JOSE PAGLIERY

jpagliery@MiamiHerald.com

Unemployed and strapped for cash, Floridians are asking for state assistance to feed their families in record numbers.

In the last two years, the number of Floridians on food stamps has increased more than 40 percent to 1.7 million. That increase is the highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And it’s the second-largest jump in the state’s history, surpassed only during the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, said an analyst at the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank.

Almost one in 10 Floridians is now on food stamps, and state managers say many more qualify.

Evidence of the unprecedented rise was on display at the Florida Department of Children & Families office in Miami recently, where the line of people waiting for help snaked out the door and around the corner.

One of them was Hardy Prado, who held his 22-month-old daughter in his arms while he waited to check on the status of his application.

As a handyman, his work is irregular and his paycheck isn’t enough to pay the bills. And Prado said it has been almost impossible for his partner, Ana Camacho, to find work since she left her job at a Doral flower shop on maternity leave in February 2007.

With every increase of the unemployment rate, drop in the housing market and tightening of credit, food stamp lines have lengthened, said Stacy Dean, a director at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

People ”lose income, and they need help buying food,” she said.

Dean said it’s no surprise that Florida’s increase surpasses the rest of the nation. Nationally, states hit hard by the housing downturn have experienced the largest increases, such as Nevada.

The nationwide rise, Dean said, is consistent with previous recessions. In 1991, the number of Floridians on food stamps was close to one million people — about 7.7 percent of the population.

Of the 1.7 million now on food stamps, about 356,000 of them live in Miami-Dade County, more than 127,000 in Broward.

A person living on their own who earns $1,127 or less a month can qualify for food stamps, as can a family of four making $2,297 or less monthly. The dollar requirement changes depending on the number of people in the household.

Certain documented immigrants are eligible and no poor undocumented immigrant children are turned away.

The program requires people ages 16 to 60 years old to ”register for work, accept suitable employment, and take part in an employment and training program to which they are referred,” according to DCF’s website. If they don’t seek work, adults ages 18 to 50 can receive food stamps for only three months in a three-year period.

Those accepted into the program receive state-issued plastic cards that work like debit cards. Users can swipe them at machines in authorized food stores, and the cards’ electronic accounts are replenished automatically every month — no more paper “stamps.”

While those kind of updates have improved the program’s efficiency, surging demand has considerably stressed the state’s ability to provide services.

”You would expect to see some decline in service when you see this huge demand,” Dean said.

Processing applications for food stamps is taking longer — close to 20 days compared to the typical 15 to 17.

The department has 4,500 employees in their ACCESS program, which handles social welfare applications. The food stamp program is one of several.

Last year, the department’s top officials asked to hire 150 more employees, but statewide budget cuts prevented that. This year, DCF is requesting 288 of them. DCF spokeswoman Sarrah Troncoso said they are hopeful the state Legislature will approve the request at its next session in the spring.

”We wouldn’t have requested them if the need weren’t there,” she said.

The weakening economy also has strained the region’s food banks that helped provide groceries to low-income families before food stamps kicked in.

Nonprofit food pantries, where families can walk in and pick up a free bag of food, are seeing fewer donations.

The Pantry of Broward has seen a big increase in traffic since opening in mid-2008, said Bruce Harris, the Pantry’s director of development. The nonprofit serves close to 253 households and takes 15 to 20 new clients each day, Harris said.

But Harris expects the monthly donations of between $15,000 to $20,000 to drop off considerably in January. Ursula Williams, a case manager at the pantry, is worried that increased demand coupled with a drop in charitable donations will force them to turn away hungry families.

”We wish DCF were not so overwhelmed, but they are,” Williams said.

Farther south, at Curley’s House of Style Hope Release Food Bank in Model City, the number of monthly customers has jumped from 731 to 1,633 in the last two years, the same period of the food stamp spike.

”Probably due to the recent layoffs,” she said. “A lot of people who never even thought they’d be on food stamps are in line now because they need to eat.”

Holliday said she started seeing more people line up at her nonprofit in August. By November, lines were a daily occurrence.

Ella Kitchen is a regular. The 70-year-old diabetic said she distributes her monthly $402 Social Security check among her few bills: medicine, rent, and her light and water bills.

Curley’s helps her supplement her food assistance program, she said.

After a few short minutes, one of the volunteers handed Kitchen a white plastic bag. Inside was a box of Triscuits, a box of wheat thins and wheat crackers, and two soda cans.

”Grandma always needs help,” she said, walking away with her bag in hand.

LaVerne Holliday, the center’s administrator, said the influx of needy families in search of food means donations rarely touch the shelves anymore — donors practically hand them right to volunteers who hand them to customers within minutes.

Dean, of the Washington think tank Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, said food stamps are one of the clearest indicators of economic need, after unemployment insurance.

Just as applications for food stamps spiked as the recession worsened, ”when the economy gets better, caseloads go down,” Dean said.

DCF officials hope people in need will not hold back from applying to the federal program, despite delays.

”We want everyone who thinks they’re eligible to go ahead and apply,” she said. http://mcclatchy.112.2O7.net/b/ss/nmmiami/1/H.10--NS/0?pageName=Story:%20829187%7CAlmost%20one%20in%2010%20Floridians%20on%20food%20stamps&server=www.miamiherald.com&channel=Today%26%2339;s%20Top%20Stories&c1=http%26%2358;%26%2347;%26%2347;www.miamiherald.com%26%2347;884%26%2347;v-fullstory%26%2347;story%26%2347;829187.html&c3=Story&c4=miamiherald%7CXMUltra%7C%0A%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%3Ca%20href=%22mailto:jpagliery@MiamiHerald.com%22%3Ejpagliery@MiamiHerald.com%3C/a%3E%0A%7CBY%20JOSE%20PAGLIERY&c6=MIA%7CMA&c28=&h1=MIA%7CMIAMIHERALD%7CNews%7C%7C%7C%7C%7CToday%26%2339;s%20Top%20Stories

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Written by americanveterannewspaper

December 31, 2008 at 3:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Announcing 2009 Homeless Legislative Day

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FCHonline.org


Florida Coalition For The Homeless
606 W. 4th. Ave. Ste12 Tallahassee, FL 32303 • 1.877.205.0021


The 2009 Homeless Legislative Day is scheduled for March 25, 2009 in Tallahassee. We hope that you will be able to join us to advocate on behalf of those experiencing homelessness in the state of Florida.

The FCH legislative priorities are available on the FCH Advocacy webpage. Issue papers will be made available in January to provide talking points on each legislative priority. Weekly updates on legislation will be posted to the FCH website throughout the legislative session.

Stay posted for details of the schedule for legislative day and dates for advocacy trainings via teleconference.

If you have any questions, contact Freyja Harris at freyja@fchonline.org.

Happy Holidays from the Florida Coalition for the Homeless!

Written by americanveterannewspaper

December 27, 2008 at 3:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Food Banks Report Dramatic Increase In Demand

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America's Second Harvest. The Nation's Food Bank Network. Hunger Advocate. Issue 3. August 2008

Last week, Feeding America released a new survey reporting that food banks across the country are experiencing an average increase of 30 percent in requests for emergency food assistance. More than 90 percent of food banks cited food prices and unemployment as the primary factors contributing to the increases in demands. More than 70 percent of food banks reported that they are currently unable to meet the needs of hungry people in their community without having to reduce the amount of food they are distributing to their agencies and clients. For more information, follow the link below.
http://feedingamerica.org/~/media/Files/research/local-impact-survey/2008-impact-survey.ashx

In January, Congress will consider economic recovery legislation to help jumpstart the economy. Feeding America is calling upon Congress to include relief for hungry Americans and food banks by enhancing food stamp benefits and providing additional funding to purchase, store and distribute surplus commodities through USDA. This support is critical to ensure that our nation’s food banks can continue meeting these dramatic surges in demand. Call and write your legislators today and urge them to pass an economic recovery package that helps ensure that hungry men, women and children have access to food in the coming months.

Visit www.hungeractioncenter.org to send a letter!

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION!

Written by americanveterannewspaper

December 23, 2008 at 3:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized