NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – While the City of McKinney, the county seat of Collin County, is still storefront cozy, just a few blocks from downtown one office is getting more business than ever.
People, who until recently were self-sufficient, are lining up at the Texas Health and Human Service Office.
“I wasn’t able to get any work, and I was getting deeper and deeper into debt,” explained Karina Clark. “I racked up debt I can’t even pay anymore.”
Clark has lost her job, home and marriage. Now, she lines up with others who are seeking assistance to feed their families.
The North Texas mother said it was hard to ask for help from the state. “It’s still something that I never expected to have to do.”
That ‘something’ Clark refers to is applying for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or plainly put… food stamps.
With applications up 70-percent in just two years, Clark is one of 40,000 Collin County residents enrolled in SNAP.
The demand for the Lone Star Card, a sort of debit card that gives recipients access to SNAP benefits, has hit a distinctive mark. In offices where applicants seek assistance CBS 11 News found people like Stephanie Adams, Rafael Gonzalez and Maria Diegas – all three are employed with either full- or part-time jobs.
They have regular public and private sector jobs and receive regular paychecks, but based on their income level, by state standards, are still eligible for food stamp assistance.
“If people are working, why do they need so much of this help?” asked Diegas. “Probably because we aren’t making enough money to pay bills and enough to buy food for the kids,” she said answering her own question.
Stephanie Adams said the local and national employment situation has made things difficult for many people. “With the economy so slow, the [work] hours aren’t there… they are cut [and] the money is not there.”
For Rafael Gonzalez the challenges just seem to keep coming. “Everyday you have something different… lights, phone, food, car,” he said. “[And] if you don’t have a car, you don’t have a job.”
The state will finance $374 worth of groceries a month, for select food items, to a family of four, who earn less than $35,000.
So far this year, in Dallas County there are 381,000 adults and children receiving food stamps assistance. In Tarrant County the number is 222,000.
Judy Rorrie provides emergency aid, like rent and utility assistance, through North Dallas Shared Ministries.
She says there’s been a distinct change not only in the number of people seeking assistance, but that so many of them are employed.
“We’ve seen more people, many of them low- to moderate-income, whose incomes are slashed even further because of the economic decline,” said Rorrie. “Hours have been cut. Companies have gone out of business.
Even those receiving SNAP benefits have taken a hit from the state. Starting last month, many families, one in three SNAP recipients, had the amount of their monthly benefit reduced. The move had to be made because the ‘utility allowance’ deducted from their incomes decreased. The average decrease in benefits was between $2-$15 per month.