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October 14, 2012

Food stamp usage rising in the North Country

(Continued)

ELIGIBILITY GUIDELINES

The program has been around for 40 years, and about one in seven people in the country participate in it.

To qualify, an income has to fall below a certain level. Locally, a family of four must have an income lower than $29,664 per year.

About 28 percent of those in Clinton County in SNAP are working but still make below the qualifying amount.

About 51 percent are children, and about 9 percent are 60 years of age or older.

The average benefit is about $138 per month per individual. There is no limit as to how long a person can be on the program.

The benefits can be used to buy food at supermarkets, large and small grocery stores, convenience and specialty stores, and farmers markets. Alcohol and tobacco cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits.

And they cannot be withdrawn as cash at automated teller machines.

NEED COULD RISE

Participating in the program still does not guarantee individuals will have enough food for themselves or their families, officials said. Area food shelves are seeing major increases in the number of people needing food, including many who get food stamps.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase,” said Dorothy Latta, co-chair of the Plattsburgh Interfaith Food Shelf.

She said numbers are up 17 percent over the past year, as about 120 more households, or about 300 more individuals, come for help per month.

“We see about 550 households per month, and a lot of these people have jobs but either had their hours cut or are having trouble keeping up with rising costs of things, especially gas,” Latta said.

People who visit the Food Shelf are given enough food for four days; they are allowed to visit up to seven times a year.

“We used to give out things like mayonnaise or cooking oil or coffee, but we now try to focus more on food on the plate,” Latta said.

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