By Chad Frey

Newton Kansan

Most refer to the program as “Food Stamps.” But it has a name — The Food Assistance Program — and it doesn’t use paper stamps any more.

The Food Assistance Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, is a nutrition assistance program providing a Vision card to eligible persons for use in purchasing food.

Demand for food assistance is up as unemployment has risen. According to Michelle Ponce, communications director for SRS, applications are up more than 16 percent when comparing April of 2009 to April of 2008.

“We know that there is a correlation between the demand for food assistance and unemployment,” Ponce said. “It’s hard to quantify because there is a lag time. It’s when unemployment benefits run out is when you see an application.”

For those who receive the benefit, they now use a card that resembles a debit or credit card but isn’t nearly as versatile.

For example, don’t try to buy a six pack of beer or bottles of wine coolers.

“It’s for food to be prepared at the home. It doesn’t allow for hot foods or prepared meals,” Ponce said. “Only food items can be purchased. It does not allow for paper products or nonfood items to be purchased.”

Eligibility for food stamps is income-based, as is the amount placed on the Vision card for program participants.

A family of three must have an income of less than $1,467 a month to qualify for the program and have less than $2,000 in “resources.” Resources include cash, checking and savings accounts, U.S. Savings Bonds, savings certificates, buildings or land other than the family home or joint owned resources.

The program goes by federal guidelines — meaning a family must be at 130 percent of the federal poverty level or below.

Benefits are given for as long as a person is eligible for them.

“Prior to April of this year, there was a time limit on adults without a disability and dependents. They could only get food assistance for three months out of the year,” Ponce said. “Part of the stimulus package lifted that and also increased benefits for those who were eligible.”

Applications for food aid are available at local SRS offices or at SRS.org.

For more information, call the Newton SRS Service Center at 283-3015 or call toll free at (888) 369-4777.