Wednesday, July 1, 2009

State expands food stamp program

RVís and savings accounts wonít disqualify

Express Staff Writer

Those seeking government food assistance will have a better chance of getting food stamps this summer, even if they own a ski boat or have cash in the bank.

Thanks to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has expanded its eligibility requirements for the food stamp program by lifting its "asset test" for one year.

Many who applied for food stamps were previously denied support because they owned expensive toys or had cash savings, stocks or bonds, that could have been liquidated to buy food.

District 25 Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said the changes, which go into effect June 1, will provide help for hungry families that would have been denied previously.

"It's really important that this happened because there are people who have boats and nice cars, but don't have jobs. They can't feed their families," she said.

The demand for food stamps has soared in recent months, with 140,000 people receiving them in April, compared with 103,000 in April 2008. In May, 151,449 Idaho residents were enrolled int eh program.

"They come in droves," said Bellevue Health and Welfare office Administrative Assistant Liz Weller. "We have seen five to 10 new food stamp applicants per day for the last six to eight months. There are a lot of people in need who have lost their jobs and need to feed their families."

Wood River Valley applicants are screened through the Health and Welfare office in Jerome before getting aid.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesperson Emily Simnitt said about 4 percent of previous applicants were denied food stamps because they failed the "asset test," which requires that they have less than $2,000 in assets, which includes recreational vehicles and savings accounts.

"We expect the numbers (of applicants) to increase regardless of lifting the asset test due to the economy for at least the next several months," Simnitt said.

Tony Evans:

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