The number of federal food stamp applications in Orange County reached a five-year high of 14,261 in 2022, according to data from the County Department of Social Services.
During the past five years, the county’s food stamp applications have been on an upward trend, with the pandemic year of 2020 having the largest single-year bump, at 20 percent.
In 2021, the number of applications was 13,526.
The federal food stamp program, formerly called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP,) offers qualified low-income families with benefit cards to buy basic food at approved grocery stores.
Active county SNAP recipients have also been on the rise since the pandemic, reaching 16,649 in Nov. 2022.
For the two years prior to the pandemic, the number steadily decreased from around 17,000 to 15,500.
County Department of Social Services Commissioner Darcie Miller told The Epoch Times, “Our numbers typically ebb and flow with the economy, and this really has to do with people’s desperation due to the economy.”
The county SNAP hotline now averages 1,400 calls a day, up from 800 prior to the pandemic.
Miller said she had moved personnel from other units to process the increased SNAP inquiries.
“They are working overtime. They are coming in early and working late. They are coming on Saturdays—we are desperate to catch up on these applications,” Miller said.
SNAP is administered in every state with different eligibility requirements, including household income, whether a family has seniors or disabled members, and whether the family receives other social benefits, among others.
In New York, for a family of four with no elderly or disabled members to receive SNAP benefits, the monthly household income (including social benefits) must be below $3,469; if a family of four has no earned income and rely on government aids for a living, the monthly benefits received must be below $3,007.
A qualified family of four can receive up to $939 in SNAP benefits every month.
The income guidelines are updated every year.
Miller said the best way to determine one’s eligibility is to apply.
Due to a pandemic-era emergency rule, each SNAP recipient now receives the maximum benefit allowed under guidelines as well as an $85 supplemental payment.
However, that allowance is set to expire at the end of February under the recently passed 2023 federal spending bill.
As a result, many SNAP recipients in the county will see their benefits reduce in March.
Miller said the county government would monitor the impact and likely allot more money to the Hudson Valley Food Bank if needed.
In addition, in 2023, Social Services’ new cost-of-living adjustment takes effect and Medicaid also expands income eligibility, which might also impact one’s SNAP benefits.
About 131,000 county residents are enrolled in Medicaid.