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Stimulus plan boosts state's food aid 13.6%


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

About 110,000 Hawaii people will have more cash for food next month as President Barack Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package begins to trickle down to some of the neediest people in the country.

A 13.6 percent boost in monthly benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called the Hawaii Food Stamp Program, was announced yesterday by the state Department of Human Services.

Some $20 billion will be released through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to food stamp recipients across the country.

In Hawaii it will mean an increase of $38 for an individual who now receives the maximum allotment of $276, and an increase of $125 to the current $921 that a family of four receives.

People receive differing amounts depending on their income. Hawaii now gives aid to people who earn up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level.

Social agencies believe there are many more people who qualify for the aid but either do not realize it or "are reluctant to apply because they mistakenly regard SNAP as welfare," said Human Services Director Lillian Koller in the written announcement.

Koller said the department will work to bring more people into the "national safety net against hunger."

The department does not keep statistics that sort out recipients according to who qualifies because they were laid off from a job or other specific situations, said Toni Schwartz, department information officer.

One immediate change will benefit jobless adults who are able-bodied and without dependents. The USDA ordered states to suspend a policy that limited benefits to those unemployed individuals. They are entitled to full SNAP benefits as long as they comply with training and employment programs.

The department also will provide five months of transitional SNAP benefits to individuals who have started earning enough to get off the welfare roll.

Federal government figures from last year showed that more than 31 million Americans were receiving food stamps in September, about 10.3 percent of the total U.S. population.