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Thousands of Food Stamp Applicants Wait for Approval

By Angie Mason
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2003

ANNAPOLIS - Nearly a month after Hurricane Isabel buffeted Maryland, thousands of affected residents are still waiting to find out if they are eligible for special food stamp benefits.

As of Friday, 500 to 600 applications had been processed for the modified disaster food stamp program, but "several thousand" applications were still being processed, said Kevin McGuire, executive director of the Family Investment Administration. The program provides one month of benefits for lower-income families affected by the storm.

"This process is going to take a lot of time," Christopher McCabe, secretary of the Department of Human Resources, told the Joint Committee on Welfare Reform at a meeting Tuesday.

Delegate Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore, questioned the large number of unprocessed applications almost a full month after the Sept. 18 storm.

"I had a problem with that," Branch said. "Most of these people are in need immediately."

"Our biggest push was to take applications and now to process them as expeditiously as possible," McGuire said later. Some workers from his department, he said, have been assigned to help counties with the applications.

Friday's estimates don't include applications processed throughout the weekend, he said.

Branch also questioned why Maryland residents were still waiting when most Virginia residents have already been helped.

Virginia operates under different rules, McGuire said.

Because Maryland was not hit by Isabel as hard as Virginia and North Carolina, the amount of food stamp relief it can provide is limited, DHR representatives explained. The hardest-hit states were approved for the most extensive relief.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service authorized Maryland to take applications Oct. 1-9 for a modified disaster food stamp program. The deadline was extended in some harder-hit areas.

The program allows families with higher-than-usual incomes to qualify for food stamps because it counts some non-reimbursable disaster-related expenses - costs of food destroyed, cleanup, and repairing or replacing damaged items, for example - as deductions from income. And the process is shortened because some verification requirements are waived.

When people apply for the modified program, they are also screened for regular food stamp eligibility.

Replacement food stamps were issued in one Baltimore Zip code and the 14 hardest hit counties - where 60 percent of the population was without power for about a day. Food stamp clients were credited with half of their September allocation within a week of the storm.

DHR distributed almost $5.1 million in replacement food stamps, MaGuire said, aiding people "faster than FEMA."

Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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