On Oct. 1, the requirements to receive state food benefits were changed to make the Basic Food program available to more people than before.
In light of the recent economic crisis, both state and community organizations such as the Association for Community Action Now are working to alert people to these changes and enroll them in this expanded program.
"We've seen a significant increase in families needing basic food services," said Glynnis Ashley, administrator for Food Programs with the Community Services Division.
The Basic Food Program, also known as the Food Stamp program, is a state-run resource that provides assistance to low-income families. Their goal is to help people "make ends meet by providing monthly benefits to buy food."
To qualify for benefits under the new rules, a family of four cannot make more than $3,534 or $1,734 for a single person in a month. These new income requirements are 20 percent above the federal poverty line.
Previously, according to their statistics, the average monthly benefit for a Washington family was $181.18.
"We want as many families who can qualify for benefits to use them," said Ashley.
ACORN held a Basic Food intake the day the new rules went into effect in order to enroll people in this new program, as well as provide other services.
"The theory is that there is $2.4 billion that is available from the other Washington for Washington's basic food program," said Patty Ludwig, administrative assistant at ACORN's Burien office.
Ludwig said that having help in filling out these applications "has to crank down the stress level." Last week's Basic Food intake was successful and ACORN saw a large number of people of turn out for more information on the new rules and how to receive these benefits.
"Across two counties in two days, we had nine people enrolled for the Basic Food Program," said Ludwig. "That's more than we ordinarily get in a full month."
John Robert Jones, President of ACORN's Washington Chapter, wrote that "We applaud Washington State for raising the income cap for basic food from 130 percent of poverty to 200 percent of poverty. This increase will help tens of thousands of families struggling to make ends meet, many of whom are struggling with their mortgages."
Having professional assistance in applying for Basic Food as well as mortgage and medical benefits helps people who may need it the most.
"They come in for Basic Food help and may learn they qualify for other benefits," said Ludwig.
One of ACORN's other aims is to help people who may not be aware that they can qualify for Basic Food
"It's possible to do it [the application] over the internet, but that can be difficult and frustrating," said Ludwig.
Ludwig also noted that many people who seek assistance from the Basic Food program can only get appointments scheduled during the day, meaning they would need to take time off at work. ACORN's intake sessions at scheduled for either the early evening or late afternoon.
State agencies are also working to avoid confusion and help explain the new rules by investing in brochures, pamphlets and public service announcements to spread the word and awareness of the Basic Food Program.
"We've had a comprehensive marketing campaign to have people understand the rules have changed," said Ashley.
Washington State has had the option of raising the income requirements for the food program, but because of workload issues they have not been able to put the new rules into place.
"It is coincidental that it comes at a time of economic crisis, but there was no direct plan because of it," said Ashley. "It's been an option that the state has had for years."
While the income limits were raised not because of the economic crisis, the crisis has had the effect of creating more interest in the Basic Food program and other benefits.
"There are certainly ebbs and flows, but it has been pretty steady lately," said Ludwig.
According to the state, it takes an average of nine days for an application to be processed with half of all applications being processed in under six days. People who receive the benefits are also eligible to have their children enrolled in a free school lunch program as well as receive low-cost phone service.
For more information on the Basic Food program, visit www.foodhelp.wa.gov. ACORN holds Basic Food intakes at their Burien office every Wednesday and Thursday from 2-8 p.m.