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$2 million in food stamps handed out in St. Charles

By Kyle Barnett -   Sep 20, 2012

It took only seven days for St. Charles Parish residents to receive nearly $2 million in temporary food stamp assistance, according to state officials.

The program lasted from Sunday, Sept. 9 to Saturday, Sept. 15 and provided 4,463 St. Charles Parish residents with temporary food stamp assistance for costs they incurred during Hurricane Isaac. On average, a family of four can have an adjusted gross monthly income of no more than $2,449 to be eligible for food stamps.

Unlike other parishes who were at times overwhelmed with long lines that lasted up to eight hours, the average processing time in St. Charles was reported to be between 20 and 40 minutes. Residents who participated in the program in St. Charles met at the West Bank Bridge Park and were bused to Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Boutte.

Trey Williams, director of Communications and Public Affairs with the Department of Child and Family Services, said the bussing was necessary due to parking limitations at the processing center.

"We were concerned about the location where the program was located itself. It did not have enough parking," Williams said. "This way it allowed everyone to meet at that central location and then they would take transportation from that location over to the DSNAP site. Then we would process them and take them back."

Williams said while DCFS always looks into what they can improve upon the next time a hurricane hits, they do not anticipate changing the current process in place in St. Charles.

In those other parishes where long waits were reported, Williams said the long lines only lasted two days before they changed their processing procedure by dividing days alphabetically to more easily process the local populations.

Williams said local processing centers had to turn away residents from other parishes due to timeline limitations.

"(The deadline) was just seven days so we wanted to make sure that as that deadline approached St. Charles Parish residents had the opportunity to get assistance without the worry of other people from outside parishes coming in to try to apply for benefits as well," Williams said. "If you can imagine you have a lot of people coming in to St. Charles from Orleans because the lines are short and if you canít get the people of St. Charles to apply then you arenít serving the purpose. We limited it on those days to only the parish residents."

In order to assure only parish residents who met the income threshold received the disaster food stamps, Williams said a fraud investigator was on site.

"Fraud is something we take very seriously and that if caught we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. We have actually taken several steps to prevent fraud, for example at each site there is a fraud investigator," Williams said. "So if any of our staff had a question about an ID or anything at all they immediately call that staff member over and he will look at that case on the spot."

DCFS officials said in a statement that those who provide inaccurate or incomplete information as part of the application process could face criminal prosecution and disqualification of benefits as well as investigation for suspected fraud, aggressive pursuit of assistance recovery and potential prosecution.

Although St. Charles Parishís temporary food stamp processing center wrapped up on Saturday, six other parishes that were harder hit by the storm are still giving out benefits.

So far the state has approved 217,000 households at a total of $87 million in food stamp disaster assistance.

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