On April 1, the nearly 125,000 Connecticut families on food stamps will see a 13 percent jump in their monthly benefit, thanks to new federal stimulus money. But hunger advocates say bureaucratic delays in Hartford are blocking aid for more families.
Governor Rell announced the plan to expand food stamp eligibility in her February budget address. "I am also expanding eligibility for federal food assistance so as that we may be able to help an additional 19,000 people," she said to applause from lawmakers.
That expansion will increase the income limit for a family of four to about $41,000 a year. But it hasn't happened yet.
"What we're told is, what's holding it up is the antiquated computer systems at the Department of Social Services," says Lucy Nolan, the director of the nonprofit End Hunger Connecticut. She says the state has told her it will be June before more families will qualify.
In the meantime, her staff is collecting the names of those right on the cusp, and telling them they will call when the policy changes. "I mean, they're going to need it in June, but they also need it now," Nolan says. "And we're seeing a lot more people who we'd never see before coming to see us."
Nolan also points out that the delay is not just hurting family budgets. It is also costing the local economy. "It's federal money. it's not state money. It's federal money coming directly into the communities that need a little cash infusion right away," she says.
Connecticut Department of Social Services spokesman David Dearborn acknowledges the change has not come quickly. In addition to the computer updates, he says the agency is required to alert current food stamp recipients of program changes - and that's a mass mailing there's no money to pay for.
The crunch will be helped somewhat once the state receives $1.2 million in stimulus money to pay exclusively for administering the food stamp program. For now, Dearborn says the agency expects to expand eligibility by July 1.