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Food stamp cases soar since beginning of recession

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Georgia Department of Human Resources recently released figures showing that the number of families receiving food stamps in Georgia has risen dramatically since the start of the nationwide recession.

From December 2007 to September 2009, the latest figures available, the number of families receiving food stamps has jumped from 405,584 to 616,907, with some counties adding tens of thousands of new cases. The National Bureau of Economic Research considers December 2007 as the start of the most recent economic recession.

In Clayton County, the local Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS) added 9,453 new food stamp recipients, jumping from 13,909 active recipients in December 2007 to 23,362 recipients in September 2009.

During the same time period, Henry County saw 3,304 new cases, giving it a total of 7,990 active recipients in September 2009, while Fayette County saw 930 new cases, for a total of 2,179 active recipients.

Larger counties, such as Cobb, DeKalb, and Fulton have seen even higher numbers of new food-stamp recipients. Cobb saw 10,399 new cases, for a total of 22,586 recipients; DeKalb saw 16,224 new cases, totaling 46,528 recipients; and Fulton saw 25,193 new cases, totaling 72,937 active recipients in September 2009.

Chuck Fischer, deputy director of Clayton County DFACS, said the federal government spent $43 million to provide food stamps to families in Clayton in fiscal year 2008. He said while fiscal 2009 figures have yet to be calculated, he expects food-stamp expenditures for the county to amount to an additional $16 million.

"I don't think we've seen this number ever before," Fischer said. "We've definitely seen an increase of about 30 percent over the last fiscal year. It [the recession] doesn't appear to have slowed people from moving into the county ... housing is less expensive here than in some of the other areas, so a lot of people are moving here because of the housing opportunities.

"We're seeing people move into the area and qualify for food stamps and we are seeing people who have lived here all their lives falling on hard times."

Over the last six months, Clayton has led the Southern Crescent in food-stamp applications, according to Fischer. He said, on average, Clayton DFACS receives approximately 3,000 food-stamp applications a month, 700 of which are filed online.

"Just because somebody applies for food stamps doesn't necessarily mean they are going to get it, but we have been doing about 1,000 extra applications a month," Fischer said. "In October 2008, we did 2,100 [applications]. In October 2009, we did 3,022 applications.

"We're [Clayton is] a Class 5 county, Henry is a Class 4 county, and Fayette is a Class 2," in terms of population size, he continued. "By virtue of being larger, we have received more applications, but applications are increasing in those areas, too. When you have a large influx of applicants, it does create some level of stress. If someone qualifies for benefits, we are required to supply those benefits in a timely manor."

According to Fischer, based on income, the maximum amount of food stamps a single person can receive is $200 per month, while the maximum amount a family of four can receive in a month is $668. Fischer said Clayton County DFACS has been working closely with neighboring counties, in order to process the influx of new food-stamp applicants.