Site eases process to get food stamps

Food stamp usage in Georgia is on the increase, according to statewide statistics, and with the demand for such social services rising, state officials want to make the application process easier.

"It really kind of serves as your one-stop shopping point, if you will, for social services," Taka Wiley, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Human Resources, said of a new state Web site, Common Point of Access to Social Services.

The site, www.compass.ga.gov, launched earlier this month, allows residents to check on eligibility for social services and apply for food stamps.

Eventually, people will be able to apply for Medicaid, child care, WIC, energy assistance and other services on the site.

Ms. Wiley said the site won't replace state Department of Human Resources' offices, where residents can still apply for social services.

"We're just saying in addition to that, let's make it easier for you," she said.

The site asks for such information as the number of people in your household, the county in which you live, how much you pay each month for housing and utilities and how much money you make or have in a bank account. A verification process follows.

"What this (site) really does is just really start that process," Ms. Wiley said.

Demand for food stamps, she said, has been on the increase, with 480,103 households in Georgia receiving them in November. That's nearly 80,000 more than in November 2007. It's also an increase over the 403,127 average monthly household figure for all of the past fiscal year.

Workers at Bi-Lo on Peach Orchard Road in Augusta said they've seen an increase in food stamps at their store.

Karen Peterson, a spokeswoman for Food Lion, said her company also has seen an increase, but it's not certain whether it has to do with the economy or with people simply switching to the store.

Though she was unable to provide specific figures for the Augusta area, she said, "We're in 11 states, and Georgia is definitely one of the highest (in food stamp usage)."

Not everyone has noticed the trend.

"I think it has remained fairly constant," said Nick Churillo, the store manager of Publix on Furys Ferry Road.

Statewide, Ms. Wiley said, the number of those using food stamps is likely to continue rising.

"It's actually been a gradual increase over the course of some years," she said. "Of course with the economy, it's going to cause those numbers to go up a little more quickly."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 823-3338 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

NEED A HAND?

To determine whether you're eligible for certain social services in Georgia or to apply for food stamps, visit the state's new Web site, www.compass.ga.gov.

To apply for food stamps in South Carolina, go to www.healthyhelpings.org/stamp_app.htm