Thousands of Indiana County Residents Eligible for SNAP Benefits

Southwestern Pennsylvania Food Security Partnership provides assistance with application process for families and individuals

SWPA Food Security Partner-Color

PITTSBURGH (October 30, 2014) – Thousands of households in Indiana County are eligible to receive food assistance benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, but 61 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 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 Indiana County, the program is coordinated by Amber Book, M.S.W., 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.

“We want people to know the SNAP program is available and they may qualify, and that we are here to help them with the application process,” said Book. “We don’t just hand out an application – we help people complete it. The process is not too hard and we make it as easy as possible.”

Book says that, for some, there are barriers to applying but these can be overcome through her services.

“A major obstacle is simply not realizing that you are eligible. We can help determine that. We will complete the application over the phone with you, in case transportation is a problem – as it often is in a rural county.”

Another challenge is the stigma that some associate with receiving food assistance.

“The stigma is most prevalent among seniors,” Book said. “It’s a matter of pride for them. For many seniors, food insecurity is a way of life – they skip meals, water down soup, and do without. They may view SNAP as a handout. But if you have worked and paid taxes, then you have contributed to this program.”

In Indiana County, 25,700 people qualify for SNAP but 61 percent of them, or 15,600 people, are not participating. Indiana County has a poverty rate of 17 percent with pervasive unemployment.

“There are few jobs here,” Book said. “Industries are closing. The ones who have it worst are the 45 to 65 year old age group; they’re too young for Social Security but often struggle to find jobs. Rural poverty is different; it’s more hidden, and residents in rural areas are accustomed to managing on their own.”

The SNAP program has many benefits. It provides a hand up for families, guarding against hunger, poor nutrition and food insecurity, while enabling families to use their available funds to meet other needs: to pay debt, housing costs and medical expenses.

“SNAP can help people get out of poverty,” said Book. “When you have food, you can concentrate on other things. You’ll function better at work or do better at school. It improves everything. Food insecurity affects clients in every way. SNAP is a resource that strengthens families by helping them make ends meet. It’s okay to reach out when you need help.”

The SNAP program is highly effective in reducing hunger and food insecurity.

“Many more people in Indiana County should be getting food assistance with SNAP,” Book said. “This is about culture change, and educating people about food insecurity through outreach. We speak to social service organizations, and we visit churches, schools, doctor’s offices, discount stores, senior centers, 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/foradults/supplementalnutritionalassistanceprogram/index

Residents of Indiana County who want assistance with applying for SNAP benefits should call (724) 219-9618.

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