Food-assistance numbers soar in Durham County

CorrespondentOctober 10, 2011 

Durham County residents continue to struggle, with nearly twice as many people getting food assistance through the Department of Social Services as three years ago.

An estimated 42,441 people now receive Food and Nutrition Services benefits, a 78 percent increase over the 23,856 recipients in 2008. The increase in Durham County is greater than the state's overall increase.

From August 2008 to August 2011, the number of individuals on Food and Nutritional Services statewide jumped nearly 65 percent from 993,081 to more than 1.6 million, according to Brad Deen, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

On average, 1,300 people in Durham County apply for the program, previously called food stamps, every month, said Food and Nutrition Services Program Manager Pinkie Davis-Boyd.

"Four or five days out of that month, it is a 100-plus coming through that door," she said.

Food and Nutritional Services provide eligible households monthly allotments to purchase food.

Eligible households include elderly or disabled people, employed or unemployed people, families who receive Work First Family Assistance and homeless individuals.

Maximum monthly household allotments, which are based on income range from $200 for one person to $1,202 for a family of eight, according to a DSS brochure.

Maximum income guidelines range from $1,174 a month for one person, to $4,010 for a family of eight.

"I am really disturbed by the fact that these numbers continue to go up even after the (economic) recovery is supposed to have happened," DSS Board Chairman Stan Holt said. "We are supposed to have recovered by 2010. And look what has happened in fiscal years 2010, 2011."

Meanwhile, the 29 Durham County DSS employees in Food and Nutrition Services are feeling the strain as they explore new ways to meet demand with the same number of workers, Davis-Boyd said.

Under state guidelines, applications must be processed within 30 days, but emergency cases - if someone has less than $150 in income or if their bills exceed the amount of money they have - have to be processed within seven days.

Employees are meeting those deadlines by using and exhausting federal money that let the department hire temporary staff and are constantly exploring new ways to improve the process, Davis-Boyd said.

"In section meetings, we are talking about what we can do different," Davis-Boyd said. "And we are trying this and trying that to meet the overwhelming demand of folk coming into the door."

Bridges: 919-564-9330, virginiabridges@gmail.com

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