Thousands of Cambria County Residents Eligible for SNAP Benefits
Southwestern Pennsylvania Food Security Partnership provides assistance with application process for families and individuals
PITTSBURGH (October 30, 2014) – Thousands of households in Cambria County are eligible to receive food assistance benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, but 43 percent of eligible county residents are not taking advantage of the program. According to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Food Security Partnership, reasons for this include misperceptions and practical challenges, but the agency stands ready to help people understand the program, apply for an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card and use it to obtain maximum benefits.
The Partnership, an initiative of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, seeks to reduce hunger and food insecurity by increasing access to food assistance programs including SNAP. In Cambria County, the program is coordinated by Rachael Leister, who says that her goal is to decrease the gap between those who are eligible for food assistance through SNAP and those who are actually receiving it.
“SNAP is a wonderful program that combats hunger and poverty by helping people get groceries, eat healthier and maintain their health,” Leister said. “Many people don’t realize that they meet the guidelines. My role is to make the application process easier, by offering practical, individualized assistance. As this is a rural county, I will complete the application over the phone with applicants if they wish.”
Leister says that obstacles to applying for SNAP vary from low literacy to transportation problems and lack of access to computers; for some, there is a stigma attached to receiving food assistance. Many qualified families are working, making minimum wages, and may not realize that they can apply. The application requires proof of income, assets and expenses, and submitting copies of this documentation can be a challenge.
“Some people find the process frustrating,” Leister said. “That’s where we come in. You don’t have to do it on your own. We’re here to help you.”
The benefits of the SNAP program make the effort well worthwhile. SNAP provides a hand up for families, guarding against hunger, poor nutrition and food insecurity, while enabling families to use their money to meet other needs such as housing costs and medical expenses.
“SNAP can lift people out of poverty,” said Leister. “It’s a resource that strengthens families by helping them make ends meet.”
In Cambria County, 39,600 people qualify for SNAP but 43 percent of them, or 17,100 people, are not participating.
According to Leister, “Many more people in Cambria County should be getting SNAP and the Partnership is doing a lot of outreach to educate people about this. We visit churches, schools, doctor’s offices, discount stores, senior centers, grocers, low income housing and senior housing settings. We answer questions and leave brochures. We’re hoping to narrow that gap. We’re right here, waiting to help, and there is no fee for our services.”
The Southwestern Pennsylvania Food Security Partnership was created in 2010 from a volunteer task force dedicated to reducing hunger and food insecurity in the region. One of the primary goals of the Partnership is to increase access to and use of food assistance programs, including SNAP and school meal programs. More information about the SNAP program and online application forms can be found at www.dpw.state.pa.us.
Residents of Cambria County who want assistance with applying for SNAP benefits should call (814)889-5831.
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