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About 25% of SNAP recipients in South Mississippi about to lose benefits

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applications at the Harrison County Department of Human Services in Gulfport on Thursday Jan. 21, 2015.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applications at the Harrison County Department of Human Services in Gulfport on Thursday Jan. 21, 2015. SUN HERALD

More than 1,700 people on the Coast are in danger of losing "food stamp" benefits because they didn't meet work requirements.

That's about a quarter of the 7,371 of the able-bodied adults without dependents on the Coast who were on SNAP at the start of the year when the new requirement kicked in. Those SNAP recipient had 90 days to get a job, volunteer in an approved program or enroll in approved workforce-training programs.

Those in the three coastal counties and almost 10,000 more across the state will lose benefits in April, said Paul Nelson, spokesman for the Department of Human Service.

On the Coast, the DHS has been trying to help people meet the requirements but many recipients didn't even respond to the first letter asking them to come to the office to hear about the requirements and how the office could help them meet them.

"It was about evenly split (among those who showed up for the meetings and those who didn't)," said Harold Netto, the regional director for District VII West. "We did everything we could."

Some have already lost benefits temporarily because they didn't meet all the requirements.

But Matt Williams of the Mississippi Center for Justice said it will be tough for those without jobs to find one because there are more unemployed than there are job openings. And other programs aren't going too well either, he said.

"There having an issue creating 'workfare' spots because part of the arrangement is the nonprofit would essentially have to be liable for anyone that they hosted," he said. "There is some hesitation on their part."

He said they haven't been able to get exact numbers from the state but he doubts it has created the 1,390 workfare slots it expected. Under that part of the program, recipients must register with Mississippi Works, the online job-search system. If they don't find a job, they are supposed to be referred to a public or private nonprofit workfare position.

He said the state had projected 55,000 people would be subject to the new rule. But the DHS now says 34,590 recipients are able-bodied adults without dependents but 15,485 are exempt and 7,985 more are meeting the requirement.

In Harrison County, 1,210 are in danger of losing benefits, as are 442 are in Jackson County and 105 in Hancock County. In Harrison County, 4,036 are subject to the rule, 2,524 in Jackson County and 811 in Hancock County.

"In 72 of 82 counties, the number of (people) subject to the rule exceed the number of job openings," Netto said. "There are simply not enough jobs to meet the demand of people receiving food assistance let alone all unemployed people. And when we couple that with 3,600 employment and training slots per month, no matter how we slice this, the math behind the policy decision doesn't quite add up."

He said the center is already getting calls from people who have lost benefits.

"People trying to figure out what they need to do to regain eligibility; people who are just confused," he said. "People are starting to get their final notices."

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