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Food-aid recipients to see new schedule in 2014

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Nearly 1 million food-aid recipients in Indiana will have their benefit payments shifted to new days next year in a change sought by the state’s grocers.

Participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly food stamps – will still receive the same amount of money for food purchases each month. Those benefits average $291 per recipient. But the timing of the benefits will change, with most clients receiving their payments later in the month.

As part of a one-month phase in, clients will receive two payments in January – with half their monthly amount distributed on their original benefits date and the second half on the new date.

Officials at the Family and Social Services Administration have been working to let recipients know about the change so they can plan ahead.

Marni Lemon, a spokeswoman for the Family and Social Services Administration, said Monday that the agency is trying to alert food assistance clients that they’ll soon be receiving benefits on new days.

“We want to save clients the potential embarrassment of arriving at the checkout counter on the date they expect to shop in January with too full of a cart and not enough money on their SNAP debit cards, Lemon said.

Details of the plan – including the new dates – are available online.

The General Assembly approved the change last spring at the request of groceries and convenience stores. Retailers in neighborhoods with significant numbers of SNAP recipients currently have a rush of customers in the first 10 days of every month when the state transfers the benefits to the clients’ debit cards. Then, there’s a big drop off, said Joe Lackey, president of the Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association.

“The people who receive these benefits need them and so they spend them,” he said. “So we have millions of dollars in sales taking place in the first 10 days of the month and then no sales the balance of the month.”

About 10 percent to15 percent of the state’s grocery stores handle about 80 percent of SNAP benefits, Lackey said.

That causes scheduling headaches for the stores and it means they often run out of the kinds of food purchased using the benefits, which are funded by the federal government and administered by the state. “That’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to us,” Lackey said.

The new system will spread benefits out from the 5th through the 23rd of every month, with distribution dates based on the first letter of the recipients’ last name.

The state has sent two notices to food stamp recipients alerting them to the change and distributed posters to grocery stores, social service agencies and other not-for-profits. The Family and Social Services Administration has also put advertising on buses in the state’s larger communities and launched radio ads about the change.

The state will spend about $245,000 on the education effort, with about half that cost being paid by the federal government, said FSSA spokeswoman Marni Lemon.

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