The Journal Gazette
Sunday, November 15, 2015 9:15 am

Hoosiers tossed off food stamps

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – About 18,300 Hoosiers are without food stamps this month after the state reinstituted a work or education requirement.

That is about 2.2 percent of the 803,000 Hoosiers who receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka SNAP. At an average of $125 a month, the state is saving millions.

In May, about 48,000 Hoosiers were notified by the state they must now work or be in an educational program 20 hours a week to continue receiving benefits. There also is a volunteer option with certain certified groups around the state.

"Ultimately, the individual is going to have to get a job," said David Smalley, head of Indiana’s SNAP program.

The requirement returned to the state because of Indiana’s unemployment numbers steadily falling. That eliminated a waiver that was given to most states during the recession.

It affects only able-bodied adults without children between the ages of 18 and 49.

The requirement went into effect in July, and after three non-compliant months a person is kicked off. Those 18,333 Hoosiers received notice in mid-October that their November benefits would be taken away.

Of that number about 1,000 are in Allen County.

"We’ve really worked to be proactive," said Marni Lemons, spokesman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. "There is some misinformation out there that we are taking food away from kids who are going hungry."

The state has worked with multiple outreach partners around the state to prepare social service organizations for additional calls.

Jaimie Ferren, who super­vises 211 services for the United Way of Allen County, said calls are starting to trickle in from individuals without food stamps.

"They are not sure what to do," she said.

The organization refers people for help in a number of ways. The first is to food banks or soup kitchens for immediate nutrition needs; the second is to free legal services if they need to appeal the state decision in some way and another is referral to job placement and education programs.

"We are braced and ready," Ferren said.

During the initial surge of working with the 48,000 affected by the requirement, each person was given an appointment with the Indiana Manpower Placement and Comprehensive Training program.

Jim Morris, director of IMPACT, said each person had an orientation session and then sat with a case manager to put together a self-sufficiency plan to address possible barriers to employment – from appropriate clothing to education. The program also has access to a massive jobs bank to try to match a person’s skill with a job.

Smalley said the show rate – the percentage of those that came to these appointments – was just 13.6 percent, although that is actually above the national rate of 12 percent.

"It shocks me," Morris said. "If I’m getting a benefit I’m going. No questions asked."

Additional steps were also added. If a person missed the appointment, a letter from the state was sent reminding them to call and reschedule. In addition, IMPACT set up a call center to contact the person directly. More than 66,000 of these calls were placed.

Morris said there are numerous reasons people don’t show up. 

For instance, some had recently found jobs and knew they were now ineligible for benefits. Others were disabled in some way but previously had not gone through the process with the state to document that.

And there were even some women who had since had children the state didn’t know about and therefore were no longer affected.

"The ones who come in and see us are usually very receptive," he said.

So far, IMPACT has placed 1,800 people in jobs that meet the requirement and thousands more are going to school. About 3,000 people are participating in a community work experience.

Each month the same process will happen as people come and go off the program.

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