THE HANDS THAT FEEDS

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While a high percentage of people who are eligible to receive food stamps are not enrolled in the program, new initiatives by government and nonprofit agencies are starting to make some progress, according to a report released Friday by the General Accounting Office. The study underscored a longstanding feature of the Food Stamp Program: non-working families are more likely to enroll than working families. In 2001, an estimated 52 percent of eligible members of working families participated in the program, compared to 70 percent of eligible members in nonworking families. The biggest obstacles are a lack of awareness of the program or its requirements, lack of after-hours appointment time, burdensome application requirements, and, perhaps most significantly, the stigma associated with receiving food stamps. On the upside, researchers identified several programs that are starting to succeed at improving access rates thanks to creative partnerships. For example, the Food and Nutrition Service has teamed up with H&R Block to promote food stamps to low-wage families registering for the Earned Income Tax Credit. In Oregon, food stamp representatives station themselves in local food pantries, which are more inviting than government offices. And New York State is running pilot Transitional Opportunity Program centers for former welfare recipients who are now working but are still eligible for some public assistance. The report concludes that states should report on their best practices for improving access to food stamps and share those lessons with their colleagues. [03/08/04]