A lack of county employees has created a delay in getting food stamps out to some people in Rockland County, according to the commissioner of the county's social services department.
Susan Sherwood recently told a Rockland County Legislature committee there has been an increase in people seeking food stamps at the same time her department has been unable to fill several job vacancies.
This has caused a backlog for the past year on processing new food stamp claims, which must be processed in 30 days according to federal law. In the county, about 38 percent of the new claims have exceeded the 30-day limit. The backlog does not affect existing claims, Sherwood said.
There are about 34,000 people in Rockland County receiving food stamps. Of those, 783 live in one of the Nyacks and 21 in Piermont. That countywide number is the highest it's ever been, and the department has been receiving about 20 new claims per week, Sherwood said.
"It's about doubled in the last two and one-half years since the recession started," Sherwood said. "The volume has come much faster than we can handle it."
In order to qualify for food stamps, an individual must earn no more than $1,174 per month; it is $2,389 per month for a family of four. Someone who is elderly or disabled can earn no more than $1,805 per month in order to qualify. There is a sliding income scale based on the number of occupants in the home. An individual meeting these guidelines would receive $200 per month in food stamps; a family of four would receive $668 per month. Sherwood has four open positions, out of about 30, in the food stamps program department.
"There's been a hiring freeze so I have not been able to fill any of these positions," she said. "We regret that we are not at those standards (of 30 days) despite our best efforts."
Help may soon be on the way. Last month, the Rockland County Legislature did approve transferring some positions to departments in need based on the recommendations of the county executive. Sherwood believes she may be able to fill her vacant positions soon based on this decision.
"The intent of the executive and the legislature is to provide us with the jobs, but its gets harder and harder each month as the economy continues to deteriorate and as the cash flow from the federal and state levels decreases," she said.
While the federal government could take over the county's program for being delinquent, that is highly unlikely, Sherwood said. She said many counties are facing the same problems due to cuts in aid from the federal and state governments. That aid used to pay for about 75 percent of the administrative costs, but is now down to about 70 percent with the extra financial burden placed on the county.
In the meantime, Sherwood and her department will wait to fill the positions while trying to fill as many claims as quickly as possible because the need is not going away.
"When times are tough that's the time when these social services are most needed," she said.