Some food stamp recipients may soon see gaps in assistance

by Sep 30, 2015

Four days can seem like an eternity for someone who is hungry.
– Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions

By CHRISTOPHER ULLERY Staff writer
An estimated 8,925 Calvert County recipients of Maryland’s Food Supplement Program — better known as FSP or “food stamps” — will be affected by one of two major changes the state is making to the program.
Maryland Hunger Solutions issued a news release at the end of August to alert beneficiaries and retailers to changes in the way the program distributes funds and changes to its enrollment program.
Under the current distribution program, Maryland Hunger Solutions Senior Manager Brooke McCauley explained in a phone interview, the Maryland Department of Human Resources distributes food stamp benefits alphabetically over a 10-day cycle. Beneficiaries received funds on different days, but typically all beneficiaries received funds toward the beginning of the month, McCauley added.
The new system will change the distribution from a 10-day cycle to a 24-day cycle.
Essentially, the change is going to shift the distribution of funds more evenly throughout the month, McCauley said.
People who have last names at the beginning of the alphabet might not see any significant change, but people at the end of the alphabet will be impacted the most, the news release states.
“Things are going to get a bit bumpy over the next several months, but we are hopeful that these changes will be a win-win for everyone involved with FSP,” Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, said.
Ultimately, Wilson said, the new system is expected to be more efficient for both “beneficiaries and retailers that accept FSP.”
Because of the current system’s focus on the beginning of the month, some grocers tend to stock heavily at these times to meet their customers’ needs, McCauley said.
The organization intends for the switch to help retailers stock shelves more evenly and allow beneficiaries better opportunities to get the food they need throughout the month, McCauley added.
In Calvert County, 8,925 individuals participated in the food stamps program in July, 3,296 of whom are 18 years old or younger. In St. Mary’s County, 14,397 individuals participated, with 5,767 ages 18 or younger, according to information provided by Maryland Hunger Solutions. In Charles County, a total of 18,402 participated, with 7,748 ages 18 or younger.
The switch from one cycle to another will not be without delay for some beneficiaries.
From September through January, the organization expects some beneficiaries to be without food assistance for up to four days.
While Wilson recognizes that a small window without assistance can severely impact the lives of beneficiaries, there are emergency food resources available for beneficiaries who may be without assistance during the changeover.
“Four days can seem like an eternity for someone who is hungry,” Wilson said. “That is why we will encourage people to dial 211 to find out how and where they can access emergency food sources.”
The 211 hotline in Maryland is a 24-hour information hotline to help residents find essential programs such as affordable housing, emergency food assistance and other services, according to the organization’s website at www.211md.org.
The food pantry at the Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park expects to have periods where demands for food assistance will not be met, said Tom McCarthy, senior warden of the Church of the Ascension. The food pantry serves about 200 families monthly, he said, and the pantry already struggles to provide food.
At this point, the church is in the “brainstorming phase” to come up with solutions to deal with the changes.
“I am certain there will be more demand we are not able to meet,” McCarthy said. “… We are confident that with God’s help we will be able to [meet demands].”
Larry Donnelly, chairman of the St. John Vianney Interfaith Food Pantry in Prince Frederick, said the pantry orders its food supply through the Maryland Food Bank in cooperation with other local charities, such as End Hunger In Calvert County. If demand increases as a result of the changes, Donnelly said, he will simply order more food.
“We have a mechanism, thank God,” Donnelly said.
The second change to the food stamp program will be to its enrollment system.
Maryland’s Department of Human Resources is working to transition from the current Service Access and Information Link — SAIL — to a “new ‘MyDHR’ platform,” the news release states.
The change will primarily affect residents signing up for FSP benefits online, but will also impact DHR partners “assisting beneficiaries, training outreach workers and interacting with the agency,” the release states.
More information about the organization and the program can be found at mdhungersolutions.org.
Staff writer Sarah Fleischman contributed to this report.