Food stamp enrollment up 25 percent in Collier County over past year

No matter the blips in graphs that show jobs are coming back and the recession is easing nationwide, the proof can’t be found for social service caseworkers in Southwest Florida.

There’s been a 25 percent increase in the number of food stamp recipients in Collier County in the past year. The figure is alarming -- a 337 percent increase going back to April 2007 when enrollment was at a low point to December 2010.

Statewide more than three million Floridians are on food stamps, an increase of 22 percent from 2.5 million in December 2009.

That translates to one of ever six Floridians are receiving the help, many of whom were first-time applicants.

“There are no jobs,” said Susan Wright, a food stamp program administrator in Collier for the state Department of Children and Families, DCF. “For every job they put out, 30 to 50 to 100 apply for the same job.”

In Lee County, there’s been a 24-percent increase in the number of people receiving food stamps from December 2009 to last month, according to data released by the state agency. Since the low-point in April 2007, the increase has been 307 percent.

“People in our communities are still experiencing incredible need,” Mike Carroll, interim regional director of DCF, said in a statement. “The folks we are serving each day are our family members, our neighbors, our friends, and in some cases our employees as well.”

The percentage increases translates in Collier to 37,683 now receiving food stamps last month and that stood at 8,620 in April 2007.

The figure is nearly triple in more populous Lee where 92,618 people are on food stamps compared to 23,083 in spring 2007.

When it comes to hiring for the few jobs being created, applicants often find they are overqualified and employers have a huge pool of candidates, Wright said.

The maximum a single person can be eligible for is $200 a month in food stamps.

“I don’t know how people are doing it right now,” Wright said.

Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman

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