IDHS Reaches Out to Families

IDHS reaches out to families as rising prices force more Illinoisans to seek food assistance

Illinois Department of Human Services reports record numbers for Food Stamp and WIC participation; new outreach efforts meet needy families while at the pantry

SPRINGFIELD - With milk and egg prices skyrocketing and gas prices climbing to $4 a gallon, more families are finding it harder to make ends meet. The number of people receiving Food Stamps and Women, Infant and Children (WIC) services has climbed to their highest levels ever in Illinois. In all, a record 592,390 households receive Food Stamps, an increase of 3.7 percent over last year. The households include a total of 1.3 million people. Since December, monthly participation in the WIC program has increased by 11,520 clients. The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) is responding by making it easier for families to access Food Stamps and WIC and by increasing the food supply in pantries statewide.

While Food Stamps and WIC benefits help families through the rough times, food dollars are being stretched thin at the grocery store. As a result, there are an increasing number of Illinoisans who visit food banks for emergency supplies. The Blagojevich administration recently provided 1.5 million pounds of additional food delivered for Illinois food pantries to feed 37,500 families in need. The Governor also proposed an additional $5 million for Food for Families in FY09 to help families offset rising food costs.

"As gas, food and energy costs rise, we are seeing an increasing number of working families turn to pantries for assistance," said IDHS Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D. "That's why we are being proactive with Food Stamp outreach. We made applications for food stamps available at food pantries and on the IDHS website."

Many people who visit food pantries do not receive Food Stamps even though they may be eligible. Express Stamps is an innovative new plan to make it easier for low-income Chicago area families to receive Food Stamps. The project is operating at eight Chicago area food pantries. So far, 1176 families have signed up for Food Stamps at local food pantries. IDHS has plans to expand that to more pantries in the near future.

The Express Stamps project is a collaboration between IDHS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), Northern Illinois Food Bank and America's Second Harvest.

While receiving assistance from the pantry, people who are interested in applying for Food Stamps complete a web application that is sent electronically to IDHS. The applicant can then leave the food pantry with an emergency food supply and a Link card for accessing Food Stamp benefits. This simplified application process helps meet the needs of families where they come for emergency food.

The Food Stamp Program helps low-income people and families buy the food they need for good health. Benefits are provided on the Link Card -- an electronic card that is accepted at most grocery stores. The program is managed by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture. The Department of Human Services administers the program in Illinois. For a family of four, income can not exceed $2,238 a month. The maximum benefit is $542 for a family of four. The average Food stamp benefit in Illinois is $241 a month per household.

WIC is another federal program seeing dramatic increases in Illinois. WIC is a food assistance program for Women, Infants, and Children that serves 296,000 families. It helps pregnant women, new mothers and young children eat well and stay healthy. Low to medium income women can receive these services if they are pregnant, breastfeeding or just had a baby or if their infants and children are under 5 years old (including foster children).

WIC can provide special checks to buy healthy foods - like milk, juice, eggs, cheese, cereal, dry beans or peas, and peanut butter. WIC also provides information about nutrition and health, information and help about breastfeeding, and help in finding health care and other services. Forty-three percent of infants born in Illinois receive WIC food and nutrition services.

Families who are struggling to buy food should check with their local DHS office to find out if they qualify for Food Stamps or WIC as these are important federally-funded programs that can be a good source of nutrition for families and help them maximize their grocery money. For more information on Food Stamps and WIC call 1 800 843-6154 (voice) or 1 800 447-6404 (TTY)