Vermont will expand Food Stamp eligibility to 30,000 households

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(Host) Vermont will expand eligibility for Food Stamp assistance as state officials plan for what they say could be a difficult winter.

The changes should more than double the number of households who qualify for government assistance to keep food on their table.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Under existing guidelines, families of four earning up to $27,000 a year qualify for Food Stamps – as long as they don’t have big bank accounts or expensive homes.

That money doesn’t go nearly as far today as it did even a few months ago.

Dorigen Keeney of the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger paints the picture.

(Keeney) “Hunger is a hidden travesty in Vermont, where elders subsist on tea and toast; where parents go without meals to make sure their children can eat; and children live for days on just bread and pasta. Your neighbors are going without food. One in 10 Vermont households are at risk of hunger and that was measured before the huge increase in food and fuel.”

(Sneyd) Vermont is one of a dozen states that’s taking advantage of a new interpretation of federal rules that allow them to get Food Stamps to more people.

Beginning January 1st, families of four earning up to $39,000 will be eligible for benefits, regardless of any other financial assets they have.

Governor Jim Douglas says the changes will help a lot of families.

(Douglas) “This is going to make up to 30,000 additional Vermont households eligible for participation in the Food Stamp program, or ancillary program benefits, such as free school meals and telephone lifeline and linkup credits, as well. It may mean up to $12 million additionally coming to Vermont in direct food benefits.”

(Sneyd) The money for the benefits will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the state will have to find $280,000 in its own budget to administer the expanded program. The bulk of that will pay salaries for 15 new caseworkers.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie says the challenge now is to make sure that working families know that help is available.

(Dubie) “If we can encourage Vermonters to take advantage of programs that they’re eligible for, Food Stamps being one of them, we can help better prepare for winter.”

(Sneyd) The expanded benefits won’t be available until January first. The state plans a publicity campaign before then to make sure everyone who is eligible knows it.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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