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Food stamp applications will be available online

Libraries concerned about influx of Internet users

POSTED: October 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Reference librarian David Greenwood, top, assists Ray Nix, a construction worker from Gainesville, Friday on the computer at the Hall County Library.

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Those applying for food stamp benefits will be able to do so online starting next month, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Resources said.

Starting in November, state residents will be able to file a Web-based food stamp application, use an online screening tool that will tell them which of the department’s services they qualify for and report changes in address and income to their caseworkers, spokesperson Edna Jackson said.

The new, Web-based accessibility was made possible by a 2006 grant the department received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jackson said.

The changes may require more from the staff at local libraries, where many people already go to follow up on leads from the Department of Labor and to check child support cases online, Director of Hall County’s Library System Adrian Mixson said.

Already the staff at Hall County’s libraries provide tax forms, help people register to vote and renew commercial driver’s licenses online, Mixson said.

Sometimes when people come in to work on those state-based renewals, they are not familiar with computer use or have trouble reading, and library staff members have to help them complete their forms, Mixson said.

When food stamp applications become Web-based, Mixson said he fears the staff of Hall County’s libraries will have to help with another state service.

"I think we’re going to see a new set of challenges here," Mixson said. "It’s just one more thing that we’re finding ourselves doing for our community, and sometimes not always well-trained to do."

"... Every time the state government seems to lay off people, it seems to be sending them from the state office to local public libraries," Mixson said.

Jackson said there are no plans to "lay off front-line workers," and the state will not be directing people to public libraries to apply for their benefits.

The Web-based service has been designed to expand access to the food stamp program, and people do not have to apply in public libraries. They can use home or work computers to access the Web site, Jackson said.

"The library just like the home or the job ... is just an access point for your computer," she said.

If the clients cannot find access to the Internet, they can still call their case workers or come to the office, Jackson said.

"This is all about improving access to benefits for our customers," she said. "... If they don’t have any other way to do it, they still have that option."



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