The number of food stamp cases in Douglas County in January was 36 percent higher than it was just 13 months earlier.
In January, the local Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services office handled 1,476 food stamp cases. In December of 1990, there were 1,085 food stamp cases in Douglas County, said Sylvia Lowder, income maintenance supervisor with SRS.
On average, each case represents about 2.5 people, so about 3600 county residents relied on food stamp assistance in January, she said.
Lowder didn't need to ponder long to explain the rise in the number of people receiving food stamps: "In any recession, it will increase."
Funded 100 percent by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program is a good one for people struggling to make ends meet during these financially dismal times, Lowder said. She added that the program doesn't benefit only the unemployed.
"THE WORKING poor also can gain from food stamps," Lowder said.
Lowder estimated that single-parent families represented about a third of the cases in January, when Douglas County received $229,350 in federal funding for the food stamp program. She said a lot of Douglas County elderly residents also qualify for the assistance.
To be eligible for food stamps, people must meet specific income guidelines. For example, a four-person household's maximum gross income cannot exceed $1,452 and the maximum net income cannot exceed $1,117. The maximum benefit for a four-person household is $370 a month.
People who wish to receive food stamps must pick up an application at the SRS office, 1901 Del. A face-to-face interview will be scheduled. At that interview, SRS workers will determine whether the applicant is eligible for the program. An applicant's first shipment of food stamps is promised to arrive in 30 days, Lowder said.
HOWEVER, some people qualify for "expedited" food stamps. Stamps will be issued in five days if an applicant earns less than $150 gross income a month and does not have liquid resources, such as cash or savings, exceeding $100, if the applicant's household consists of destitute migrants or seasonal farm workers whose liquid resources do not exceed $100 or if all members of the household are homeless, Lowder explained.
Food stamps may be used for staples such as meat, bread, cereals, vegetables, fruits and dairy products but not for non-food items such as cleaning supplies or alcoholic beverages. They may be used for specialty foods such as diabetic products or infant formulas but not for hot foods sold above room temperature. In general, food stamp recipients are encouraged to buy foods for home preparation rather than more expensive convenience foods.
ASKED WHETHER there were any problems with local residents misusing food stamps, Lowder said, "We occasionally have a store call." But she said problems are rare.
She said first-time food stamp users often tell SRS workers they feel like everyone stares at them at stores. But Lowder said she thinks people are probably just overly sensitive. She said she doesn't think local store clerks treat food stamp customers any differently.
Occasionally, someone who qualifies for food stamps will pass up the program, saying it's too much of a hassle.
"But it's really very few who pass it up," Lowder said.