HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The need keeps getting bigger. The Department of Human Services says more than 145 thousand residents used its food assistance program in August. The department no longer calls them food stamps, but as Hawaii's poverty level continues to climb, DHS is making a big move to combat with the state's hunger problem.
DHS plans to expand SNAP, its supplemental nutrition assistance program, formerly known as the food stamps program.
By raising the eligibility ceiling, DHS hopes to reach an additional 22 thousand Hawaii residents who live in hardship. DHS's director, Lillian Koller announced the changes during a news conference in Honolulu. "This financial boost will help these individuals stabilize their household budgets and maintain self-sufficiency."
SNAP will be offered to residents who make less than double the federal poverty line. A family of four, for instance, would have to make no more than $4,228 gross income a month or $50,736 annually to qualify. An individual would have to earn a gross income of $2,078 or less a month or $24,936 a year. The eligibility changes to the program will take effect October 1st.
"This opportunity here will allow us to have the maximum number of our Hawaii residents who can qualify for this benefit be eligible," Koller says.
DHS streamlined the food assistance program this year and has received an additional 60 million dollars in federal funds for SNAP. Hawaii will need it. The state's poverty level is the highest its been in 13 years - with more than 156 thousand people struggling. Many are children.
The higher poverty level translates to higher needs at places like the Hawaii Food Bank - where some 180 thousand residents turn for help annually.
"Last year, we distributed 11.3 million pounds of food. That was up 1.2 million from the previous year. And the previous year was up a 1.1 million from the year before," says Food Bank President Dick Grimm.
John Deliso works for a non-profit group called Ka Pa'alana - which serves hundreds of residents on the Waianae coast. The organization comes here about twice a week, so it can then distribute food to the needy. "Tell you something, it's been getting bad because of the economy. We try to help them anyway we can."
For both the private and public sectors, it's been difficult to keep up the pace - with poverty levels that some say could get worse before they get better.