Coasties urged to apply for benefits


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Friday, January 25, 2019

CAMDEN — Officials in Camden County — home to a significant number of Coast Guard families — are encouraging Coast Guard personnel who currently are not being paid because of the partial shutdown of the federal government to apply for food stamps and other benefits.

Craig Patterson, director of the Camden Department of Social Services, said his office has noticed a slight increase in applications for assistance that appears to be directly related to the government shutdown.

Patterson declined to release specific numbers but said there has been a noticeable increase since the shutdown began last month. An estimated 800,000 federal employees, including Coast Guard personnel who work at Base Elizabeth City, are affected by the shutdown, which is now in its second month.

Despite the increase in applicants, Patterson said some Coast Guard families who live in Camden may not realize they are eligible to apply for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Social services agencies statewide have been trying to get the word out to families that they may apply, he said.

“We certainly hope families will inquire,” Patterson said. “We want people to come and talk with us if they have been impacted.”

A spokesman for the Coast Guard’s District 5 office in Portsmouth, Virginia, in response to questions about what information is being provided to Coast Guard personnel about applying for SNAP and other assistance, said it’s available online at www.dcms.uscg.mil/budget/FAQ/.

The webpage states that Coast Guard employees “are permitted to participate in any public service or benefit provided by your state or local government that is open to any other member of the public on the same terms. These rules differ state to state.”

The page further clarifies that “for SNAP benefits, there are also income limits and work seeking requirements that you would have to ascertain from your particular state. Depending on the qualification requirements for a particular public benefit program, a federal employee could apply but not be deemed eligible for the benefits.”

In addition, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance is issuing interest-free loans. Additional information is available at https://www.cgmahq.org.

Because of the partial federal shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture instructed states to issue February’s Food and Nutrition Services benefits by Sunday, Jan. 20. Typically, those benefits wouldn’t have become available to families until Feb. 3.

"We are working closely with county departments of social services and our federal partners to ensure participants and retailers have little to no interruption of FNS services due to the shutdown," said Tara Myers, deputy secretary for human services at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, in a statement released by the department.

DHHS has said once February’s Food and Nutrition Services funds are distributed they will be available for use. However, beneficiaries are being advised to use the early benefits cautiously since no other funds will be released for February.

“Participants should be aware that since there will be no FNS benefits issued in the month of February, they should plan accordingly,” the department’s release states.

DHHS states that it projects sufficient funds through February for Food and Nutrition Services as well as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the Women, Infants and Children program.

“However, if the federal shutdown continues, funding for these services could run out after February,” the DHHS statement reads.