One-third of food assistance available each year has gone unused, with eligible participants neglecting to file for the assistance, according to representatives with the Southeast Kansas Independent Living Center.

One-third of food assistance available each year has gone unused, with eligible participants neglecting to file for the assistance, according to representatives with the Southeast Kansas Independent Living Center.
More than 37 million people were eligible to receive food assistance each month in 2006, and only 25 million received them, meaning only 67 percent of eligible participants signed up; while 33 percent either chose not to participate or are not aware they are eligible.
Shashh Tsinhnahjinnie, SKIL independent living coordinator, said there were several reasons people haven’t been signing up for the program.
“First off, I think there’s a lack of information about it,” Tsinhnahjinnie said. “Some people may not believe that they are qualified. The rules have changed in the last five years in terms of qualifications and requirements. While they aren’t just handing them out, the assistance is a lot easier to acquire than it was.
“Then I think there’s a certain stigma that comes with food assistance. We’re trying to get away from that mentality, the food stamp mentality. That’s why we’re calling it food assistance. It can help people to get a little bit of extra help.”
Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) reports 57 percent of those receiving assistance have a high school diploma or GED, and 9 percent have more than a high school diploma. While some who receive food assistance have earned income, 27 percent have Social Security income and 23.5 percent have SSDI income.
The program, provided by the USDA and administered by SRS, is one of 15 nutritional assistance programs that serves as the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, he said. The outreach was created by the department of agriculture as a way to reach the working poor, and was the result of a farm bill, where the goal was to take care of the surplus farmers are producing.
Tsinhnahjinnie said that research shows that for every $5 of new benefits generated, the program creates $9.20 in total community spending.
“Everything benefits the community,” Tsinhnahjinnie said.
SKIL, along with Catholic Charities, was awarded a grant for outreach in Crawford County, and Tsinhnahjinnie said both sides were willing to help people work through the application.
“If people give us a call, we will do a mock application so that they know ahead of time whether they will be qualified or not,” Tsinhnahjinnie said. “That can save them time and energy.”
For more information on the program or to see program eligibility, persons may call the SKIL resource center at (866) 927-6780 or call Alberta with Catholic Charities through The Wesley House at 232-3760.
“It doesn’t hurt to apply,” Tsinhnahjinnie said. “The worst they can do is say no.”

Kevin Flaherty can be reached at kevin.flaherty@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 Ext. 134