Lee food assistance requests up
The number of families needing food assistance has jumped 20 percent this month over last in Lee County.
The hike is part of an on-going trend driven by the economy– there has been a steady increase every month in the number of families receiving food assistance in Lee County since 2007.
Erin Gillespie, spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families, said February 2007, when the unemployment rate was low and the housing industry was doing well, was the last time they saw low numbers of families needing assistance.
“Since that month we have seen an increase every month,” she said.
Gillespie said unfortunately, Lee County saw an earlier need for assistance than other counties due to the construction market.
In May, Lee County had 93,917 food stamp recipients, which was higher than the other counties in the SunCoast Region.
The SunCoast Region, which makes up 11 counties from Tampa to Naples, currently has 709,297 people who are receiving food assistance.
Manatee County had 47,714 food stamp recipients, Sarasota County had 43,403, Collier County had 37,609, Charlotte County had 19,692, Hendry County had 10,281, DeSoto County had 7,272 and Glades County had 1,170.
There are currently 3.1 million people who are on food stamps.
To qualify for food assistance, Gillespie said individuals have to meet certain income requirements.
She said the federal government increases the amount of money a family can receive every year based on inflation.
“Every year it has a slight increase,” Gillespie said.
One person can receive $200 a month for assistance, a family of four can receive $668 a month in food stamps and a family of 10 can receive $1,502 a month.
The food stamps can be used to purchase bread, cereal, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and dairy products.
The biggest issue, Gillespie said, is people do not have the means to purchase food to provide for their families when they lose their job.
She encourages people to apply for food stamps as soon as they lose their job by going online at www.myflorida.com/accessflorida from any computer.
“Don’t wait until the pantry is empty,” Gillespie said.
It takes 15 days from when a person fills out an application to when they receive their debit card in the mail, which is lower than the federal standard of 30 days.
“It is a two-week process from the time they fill out the application until they have the card in hand,” she said. “We know that people are hungry when they come to us. We work very diligently.”