SALEM — Selectmen are considering changes to the town welfare system tonight — changes that could punish deadbeat landlords, keep food voucher recipients from spending town money on pet food and provide an extra $250 for burials.

But the problems town officials are trying to fix aren't widespread, and might even not exist, Human Services Director Bob Loranger said.

"It's not a big thing, but we just want to make sure" town support for the needy isn't abused, said Loranger, who drafted the proposed changes.

The centerpiece of the changes is a recommendation Town Manager Jonathan Sistare made in October.

Under state law, the town is entitled to intercept welfare rent checks bound to landlords who haven't paid the town for utilities or taxes. Tenants cannot be considered in arrears on their rent if the town intercepts a welfare check.

The proposed changes would allow the town to take advantage of that law, which Sistare has said he used successfully when he was town manager in Jaffrey.

But tax collector Cheryl-Ann Bolouk said there aren't any apartment owners who fail to pay their taxes or utility payments.

"I don't have anyone in arrears," she said.

The town only helps people with rent on a short-term basis — usually making no more than one or two rent payments, according to Loranger.

The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Salem in 2006 was $991, according to information from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

Loranger is also proposing another restriction to food vouchers. Voucher recipients right now aren't able to use town support to buy alcohol or cigarettes, but Loranger wants to extend the ban to pet food and reading materials.

The vouchers, which differ from the state's food stamp program, provide short-term food payments for needy people not eligible for food stamps, or for whom food stamps are not enough.

A family of four could get $147.37 a week in town food vouchers, Loranger said.

The money is meant for food and other necessities, like toiletries, Loranger said. The proposal would prevent recipients from using the vouchers to buy magazines, paperback books or pet food.

"Every once in a while" someone uses the vouchers on those kinds of items, Loranger said.

The final major proposal Loranger is putting forward would increase the amount paid out for burials or cremations, from $750 to $1,000. Money for final arrangements was last increased in the mid-1990s, Loranger said.

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