Contact: Brooke McCauley, 410-528-0021 x25
BALTIMORE, Md., August 28, 2015 — Beginning September 1st, 2015, two major changes to the state’s Food Supplement Program (FSP, or food stamps) will impact 800,000 low-income people, nearly 4,000 retailers and more than a dozen outreach organizations that connect eligible people to the program, according to Maryland Hunger Solutions. One of the changes to the program, which is administered by Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (DHR), will affect the timeframe in which benefits will be issued while the other changes will address program enrollment and limiting benefits for adults without children.
“Things are going to get a bit bumpy over the next several months, but we are hopeful that these changes will be a win-win for everyone involved with FSP,” said Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions. “These changes are designed to make the program more efficient and to better serve beneficiaries and retailers that accept FSP.”
“But there are also other changes that can leverage more federal dollars for Maryland and for our neighbors who use the program.” said Wilson. “We can provide more nutrition for eligible Marylanders by being less bureaucratic and by making smart investments in health and nutrition.”
Changes in Distribution of Benefits Schedule
Currently, benefits are issued on a 10-day cycle, but the new schedule will be every 24 days to allow a larger window for retailers to serve FSP customers. This will be a gradual delay that will occur in alphabetical order depending on the first three letters of a person’s last name; those with names that appear later in the alphabet will be impacted more. According to Maryland Hunger Solutions, delays should be no more than four days for program participants to receive their benefits over the course of September through January. Everyone will be on the new schedule as of February 2016.
“Four days can seem like an eternity for someone who is hungry,” said Wilson. “That is why we will encourage people to dial 211 to find out how and where they can access emergency food sources.”
This change will allow retailers accepting FSP to better ensure food inventory, the monthly distribution of hours for retail workers, and the delivery of fresh goods throughout the month.
Changes to Program Enrollment
The second change to the nutrition assistance program addresses program enrollment as the DHR transitions from its current online application platform Maryland SAIL (Service Access and Information Link) to the new “MyDHR” platform. This will primarily impact those who are signing up for FSP benefits online, as well as DHR partners who are signing up beneficiaries, training outreach workers, and interacting with the agency, according to Maryland Hunger Solutions.
“While many of us acknowledge that SAIL is outdated and needs to be overhauled, our concern is making sure that the transition is smooth and that SAIL continues as a backup system,” said Wilson “After all, history has shown us that computer glitches can make accessing benefits a nightmare. It is our recommendation to keep SAIL online until the end of December 2015 to ensure greater customer service and less hardship for FSP beneficiaries.”
Fundamental Change Needed
The minimum FSP benefit is only $16 a month.
“We believe that increasing the minimum benefit -as our neighbors in Washington, DC, have done- is not just an investment in the health and nutrition of our low-income neighbors, it is also an investment in Maryland,” said Wilson,. “We know that FSP benefits are spent in local stores, at local farmers markets and buy local Maryland products. We also know that there is multiplier effect that helps the local economy. For every $5.00 of FSP benefits received, $9.00 is generated in the local economy.
Other issues that need to be addressed to solve hunger and poverty, according to Maryland Hunger Solutions, include more jobs with livable wages, having eligible school districts implement community eligibility, and having DHR utilize the “heat and eat” food assistance program to better leverage federal dollars.
The Food Research and Action Center established Maryland Hunger Solutions (MDHS) as a project to fight hunger and improve the nutrition, health and well-being of children and families in Maryland. Learn more at MarylandHungerSolutions.org.