By Doug Ireland
---- — Salem human services director Kathleen Walton is concerned about the number of food assistance applications flooding her office.
That number has nearly doubled since last year as local residents struggle to make ends meet, Walton said. She was disheartened to learn yesterday that figure could continue to skyrocket.
That’s because the New Hampshire Division of Family Assistance announced reductions in the federal food stamp program will affect 55,041 Granite State households, including many local families.
As of Nov. 1, benefits will decrease an average of 7.4 percent because extra funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 will expire, according to division director Terry Smith.
“We are reaching out to all our clients that receive food stamp benefits so that they are aware of the changes and understand how this will affect them,” he said.
Recipients receive an average of $5.80 per day for food, Smith said. That will drop to $5.40 per day, he said.
Most households will receive roughly a $5 per person cost-of-living increase as of Oct. 1, but that will seem to make little difference when their food stamps are reduced a month later, he said.
The number of New Hampshire households receiving food stamps has increased 85 percent since 2008, he said. That figure has soared from 31,830 to 58,229, Smith said.
“These are people who were employed and are no longer employed or are employed in a new job market, which is part-time employment,” Smith said.
Walton said she’s worried how that will affect Salem residents who are already having a tough time.
“Folks are already exhausting their food stamps,” she said. “They are coming to the town for help and food. We are trying to help as best as we can.”
Walton said that from January to August 2012, her office spent $1,100 on food vouchers to help 54 Salem families.
During that same nine-month period this year, the human services office spent $5,424 of its $6,000 annual food assistance budget to help 106 families, she said.
“This is definitely going to have an impact,” she said.
Walton said one reason her office is seeing more applicants is because the Rockingham Community Action food pantry on Lawrence Road closed following the shuttering of the former Mary Foss School building.
The food pantry was one of a half dozen in Salem, but it served residents five days a week, Walton said.
One of those food pantries is at Triumphant Cross Lutheran Church, where the Rev. David Yasenka said they have recently been serving approximately 50 people a day instead of the usual 40. The food pantry is open Mondays.
Yasenka said the food stamp decrease is unfortunate since he expects the number of visitors to the food pantry to rise when the weather becomes colder and people spend more of their income on heating their homes.
Human services directors in Derry and Londonderry said they are also seeing more residents turn to their communities for help with food, fuel and housing costs.
Londonderry finance and welfare director Susan Hickey said fuel and housing expenses alone for the first six months of 2013 rose from $13,625 to $17,992 since last year. Food assistance costs were not available because they are handled by an outside agency.
Derry human services administrator Jill McLaughlin said the food stamp reductions are troubling and will take their toll on recipients and food pantries.
“These changes that affect families with children is very concerning to us,” she said. “With a decrease in food stamp benefits, many families that are already struggling to feed their children may not be able to and this will result in an increase at the local welfare level.”
In the last fiscal year, the town provided $84,428 in welfare assistance to 120 households, she said. That compares to $68,734 spend to help 106 households the previous year, she said.
These are the maximum monthly benefit levels:
Household size Oct. 1 Nov. 1
1 $200 $189
2 $367 $347
3 $526 $497
4 $668 $632
5 $793 $750
6 $952 $900
7 $1,052 $995
8 $1,202 $1,137