40,000 Mainers set to see reduction in their food benefits

6:10 PM, Sep 27, 2010   |    comments
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SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Changes to the federal government's heating and utilities allowance that take effect on October 1st will be hitting many Mainers in the wallet.

For the past two years, the federal government set the allowance at $700 a month to heat a household in the state, but that amount will drop to $530, mainly because the price of heating oil dropped from roughly $4 a gallon a couple years ago to under $3 today.  The drop will affect the amount of assistance people receive through the state's Food Supplement Program.

"Individuals who have a standard income or fixed income, live in the same place, and nothing has changed in the past year, they are the ones that are impacted," explained Barbara Van Burgel, director of the Office of Integrated Access and Support for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

239,000 people in Maine receive benefits from the Food Supplement Program each month.  This change in benefits will affect over 40,000 of them.  They will lose about $41 a month on average.

"For a lot of people, it's the difference between getting food and not getting food because we live on such fixed incomes," said Ingrid Anderson.  She will see a $34 a month drop in benefits.  "It just kind of surprises me that they would take food, which is a basic thing, away from the poorest part of the population."

"Within a week of receiving a letter this change is going to take place," said Martha Whitmore, another Mainer affected by the change.  "I find that sneaky.  The level of stress among the population that this legislation is effecting is already pretty great, and to take away food stamps adds to it in a big way."

Barbara Van Burgel agrees the change was announced on short notice, but says the state is required to implement the changes handed down by the federal government by October 1st.  "I think it was a tight timeframe," she said.  "Our hands are tied because we run according to federal law."

She said the only alternative to implementing the changes on such short notice was to pay out the benefits at the same level as before for the month of October and then seek to recoup that money afterward. 

The state Department of Health and Human Services encourages people who's heating costs exceed $530 a month to contact them to have their information adjusted.  They also want to make folks who are struggling aware of other services they offer and alternative sources of assistance in their areas.  They ask people in need of help to contact their eligibility specialist to inquire about additional resources that may be available to them.


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