DHR Director Doug Heath said the program differs from food stamps because the people who are eligible for this program are usually not eligible for food stamps.
Heath, who is the former Randolph County DHR director and has worked 10 years for the state, said based on estimates from Calhoun County’s past hurricane disasters, the agency expects 22,000 people may need assistance.
“I certainly hope we don’t have that many people who need our assistance, but if there are, we’ll be ready to assist those people,” Heath said.
Victims of the tornado can apply for electronic benefit transfer cards only if they are —and were on April 27, 2011— residents of Calhoun County and do not receive food stamps. DHR will consider people’s income along with what they lost, such as food because of power outages, loss of employment because the tornado hit their business, and downed trees preventing them from reaching their places of employment.
Residents should bring an ID and proof of residency. Heath said the agency understands people may have lost important documents in the storm but to bring what they have or an authorized representative who can verify who they are. Only one person per family needs to register.
Upon arrival, residents will be given general instructions and asked basic questions to make sure they fit requirements before they speak to a certification worker who will then get more detailed information about income and losses.
Heath said those who are tentatively approved will leave with an EBT card, a phone number they can call within three to four days to learn if they are eligible, and a general idea of how much will be put on their card. For example, an eligible family of four will receive a one-time $668 for food assistance. The card expires after 90 days.
Heath said the EBT cards can be used like a credit card at the grocery store, Walmart or other businesses that accept them.
To prevent a large influx of people at once, each day is organized alphabetically by last name: Residents whose last names begin with A-F should apply Wednesday; G-K on Thursday; L-R on Friday; S-Z on Saturday. Heath said if someone shows up with a different last name than those listed for the day, the agency will not turn them away and plans take all of the applications they can.
Calhoun County’s food assistance program ends Saturday, so residents must apply for eligibility before then. Heath said each day the doors will close by 5:30 p.m. to ensure the people inside get processed by 6 p.m.
Heath said 40 of his own staff and a total of about 180 employees from around the state will be working to run the program. As of Monday, he knew of staff coming from Lee County, Lowndes County, Talladega County, Shelby County, Jefferson County, and some employees from the state office in Montgomery.
“It’s not just a one-county thing; it’s a team effort where all the counties are coming together,” he said.
Heath and 25 members of his staff went to Cullman County to help with their program last week. They were expecting 9,300 people there, but ended up seeing 11,000.
“This is the first time that a disaster of this magnitude has affected this many counties, at least for DHR to have to assist,” Heath said.
DHR was then able to get people already on food stamps their maximum benefits early, by the first week of May instead of the middle of the month.
Heath said some of the funding for the program will come from federal and state funds. He said he hopes FEMA will reimburse them, but there is no guarantee that will happen.
“We’re doing this because people need this, and we have the ability to do this,” he said.