Lawmakers debate food stamp distribution

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by Jamie Grey

NWCN.com

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 10:29 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 11:16 AM

BOISE -- With Friday being the first of the month, many grocery stores will be busy with all of Idaho's food stamp recipients getting their money at once.

A new proposal presented Thursday at the statehouse could change that distribution model, and impact nearly everyone who buys groceries in the state.

The proposed changes come from Nampa Representative Christy Perry, and carry a nearly $700,000 initial price tag.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee agreed Thursday to at the very least to look at the changes and printed the bill for consideration.

Since August 2009, Idaho has issued all food stamp money on the first of the month. Recipients told KTVB back in October that they've got to hit the store that day, because they're out of food.

"I am close to empty when I get to the first of the month," said food stamp recipent Jessica Carver.

Last year, a bill to go to multi-day issuance passed the house, but it didn't get a hearing on the senate side.

This year, Rep. Perry brought the idea back to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

"Really the impetus for doing this is that businesses have come to us and said, 'Hey we need you to change something'. We've had citizens come to us and say 'Hey you need to change something'," said Rep. Perry, R-Nampa.

The proposal is to issue benefits over 10 days each month, and print recipient's names on their benefit cards.

The price tag will be nearly $700,000 to start and more than $200,000 to maintain. That cost and other issues are already bringing opposition and skepticism.

"I would like to use this money to educate people on how they can use their food stamps more efficiently and stretch them over the month. They do not have to be used on the first of the month. They can be used throughout the month," said Senator Pattie Anne Lodge, R-Huston.

"I have trouble seeing any benefit to the state. Or for that matter, I don't see a lot of benefit to the recipients," said Senator Les Bock, D-Garden City.

Ultimately, the senators want more information from Rep. Perry and stakeholders.

"I would like to see the discussion. I think this is important. I think that we need to help our people be as healthy as they possibly can but also efficient," Sen. Lodge said.

"Efficiency isn't necessarily always what's cheapest to do. A government program, it should be effective and it should be efficient, but efficient is not always synonymous with cheapest." Rep. Perry said.

The senators printed the bill, with discussion to be continued.

If this bill were to pass in current form, the change to staggered day issuance would happen in 2014.

Another element, which Rep. Perry says accounts for much of the cost, would be embossing recipients names onto cards, which she says that would help cut down on fraud.

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