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Here to Help: Applying for food stamps

WRAL News has launched a new effort to bring you stories to help during a struggling economy, such as information on how to qualify and apply for food stamps.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Times are tough and money is tight. WRAL News is here to help. The station has launched a new effort to bring you stories to help during a struggling economy, such as information on how to qualify and apply for food stamps.
The Durham County Department of Social Services has seen a jump over the last few months in the number of people who need help buying food.

"We (were) taking 80 applications, maybe 75 applications, a month. Now we're getting to 100. On Monday, we took 146, so that is the most we've ever taken since I can remember being here,” said Pinkie Davis-Boyd, program manager of Durham County’s Food and Nutrition Services.

Food stamps aren't stamps anymore, but rather a debit card.

"We went to the electronic issuance in 1996, and you get a card. It's called an EBT card," Davis-Boyd said.

Donald Moore said he didn't know food stamps were issued on a card.  He was among those applying for assistance at the  Durham office.

Moore is a prostate cancer survivor, and his wife just had a heart attack. As a result, he is dealing with a slew of medical bills and decided to apply for food stamps.

"I feel like, if you don't ask, hey, it's your loss. You've got to ask friends and other people and don't be ashamed, you know, because you might find yourself one day in this spot,” Moore said.

Moore used to work for Bristol-Myers Squibb as an inventory manager until a gun accident left him blind in one eye. He said times have been especially tough recently.

"I'm on disability. (My) wife is a nurse and she had a triple bypass recently because of a heart attack," Moore said. "So I'm doing now what I feel like I have to do."

"There are a lot of [misunderstandings] out there, (such as) that 'I can't have a car. I can't have a nice car and apply, or I'm not going to get but $10.' Each situation is different, (and) we look at it on a case-by-case basis,” Davis-Boyd said.

To apply for food stamps, you must be a United States citizen. There are other requirements, but the main concern is income. What matters is not how much you take home, but rather how much you make before taxes.

If you are a single person, you can't make more than $1,127 a month. For a family of four, the limit is $2,297 a month. If you are under that amount, the food stamp debit card can buy anything edible and is accepted across the U.S.

For Moore, food stamps may only mean a few more dollars a month, but these days, he said, every penny counts.

"I know my friends and family, they're paychecks have only gone up 10 cents. Yet inflation of prices in this economy has gone up and up," Moore said. "I've really never experienced it like this before, so I don't know if it's a recession or just a change in times."

The slow economy has also brought changes to food stamp requirements. Last year, a single person who didn't have a job, but who was physically able to work, was only eligible for food stamps for three months in a 36-month period unless the person was working at least 20 hours each week. That requirement has since been waived. Now, if you are single and between the ages of 18 and 49, there is no work stipulation.

If you don't qualify for food stamps, there are other community-outreach programs that may be able to help.

"I admire anyone who sees a need and does something about it, and with the economy the way it is, we all have a need and that's what we look for to help someone. And if we can feed one family along the way, then our work will not be in vain," Davis-Boyd said.

Last year, a state audit showed more needed to be done to cut out food stamp fraud. Officials with the Department of Social Services say they are working to do that.


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