The State of Virginia has initiated a procedure to streamline income calculations for food stamp recipients, by simplifying the way utility costs are determined.
Eligibility for foods stamps is determined by a person's total monthly income minus deductible expenses, which include utility costs.
The new Virginia program, which began July 1, establishes standard deductions for utility costs that persons can use each month in calculating their eligibility. Previously, food stamp recipients had to keep track of all their utility bills.
Under the new procedure, a household of one to three persons is allowed a monthly utility deduction of $53, and a family of four or more may take a $72 monthly deduction, said welfare department spokesman Alan Elliott. The deduction would cover the cost of heat, electricity, gas, sewage, garbage and water.
"It's a convenience thing in most cases," Elliott said. "We're just trying to simplify the process for the public and for us. People won't have to hassle with verifying every bill, and we won't have to hassle with computations an estimates."
Elliott said food stamp recipients can decide on a month-by-month basis whether or not to take the standard deduction.
To qualify, a household must prove that it is responsible for one or more utility expense. The total expenses are irrelevant, Elliot said.
"For a household with low utilities costs, it's a good deal," he added. "We hope a lot of people will take advantage of the option and benefit from it."
Local welfare agencies are enthusiastic about the change, Elliott said, because they will no longer have to make so many estimates on anticipated household utility payments. "This will eliminate a lot of our guesswork," he said, "and that's certainly a good thing."
Elliott added that the new program is not expected to result in "any major change in the actual amount spent on the food stamps program."
Virginia is one of the few states to allow a standard deduction for its food stamp program. Elliott said the change was made in anticipation of new food stamp guidelines, to be released by the U.S. Agriculture Department later this year, which will include a requirement that states offer the standard deduction.
About 69,000 Virginia households (or 215,000 persons) currently receive food stamps. In April, state residents paid about $3 million for more than $8.5 million worth of food stamps.
As part of the new USDA guidelines, recipients will no longer have to pay for food stamps as of Jan. 1, 1979. Currently, persons pay a small fee to obtain the stamps. In the future, that fee will be eliminated.