Number of food stamp users hit new high in Oklahoma

Lawton_In a new record, for the second straight month, the number of Oklahomans receiving food stamps has reached the highest level in state history.  In Comanche County, officials say they believe the local numbers will continue to climb thanks to a change in the program that will allow more people to qualify.  Those who do will get more money because of the Federal Government's stimulus program.

The Department of Human Service's (DHS) latest report says it is seeing increases - some even larger than Oklahoma's - all across the state.  In fact, in one month alone, the number of recipients grew by 6,000 to a record high of $450,000 people on food stamps.

The first of the month usually is busy for grocery stores, but lately they say they've been even busier.  "The last couple of months, over last year, we've seen an increase of about 14% in food stamps," said Grocery Store Manager Eddy Young.  That number jibes with the increase of food stamp recipients DHS is assisting.  "Maybe their jobs have fallen through, or they've moved here from other areas," said Patsy Davis with DHS.  "You find yourself cutting back on certain bills - maybe $10 or $20, so you can maybe have enough soap and toilet tissue to last you through the month," she said.

Despite the tough times, DHS now is able to help even more people.  Just this month, they say the Able Body Work Program was discontinued.  "People who had not worked, and did not go to work, they could only receive so many months," said Davis.  "With the change in it - people who have not worked - that's not a requirement.  They can come in and apply for benefits, and still receive benefits," she said.

Davis says a lot of those in need will meet the right requirements - which is why the lines for help at DHS are expected to stay busy.  "We will probably have more demand, and an increase in food stamps in this county," Davis said.  "It's good to see that people can buy what they need for their families, and also help us out."

Also beginning this month, recipients should be getting more food stamp money.  The federal stimulus program is bumping all those who receive food stamps up by about 14%.  It could mean $80 more for a family of four.  In addition to food stamps DHS also is offering a temporary program to help with energy utilities called E-CAP.  You must meet financial and resource requirements, and be within 72-hours having your utilities turned off, to qualify.