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Flood victims offered food aid for one week

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lines stretched for blocks as people sought financial assistance after several western suburbs and parts of Chicago were hit with torrential rains and severe flood damage in late July.

The government is offering free assistance by helping affected people pay for food, which meant long lines with long waits as people dealt with the heat for some free food stamps.

It is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a special federal program for flood victims. SNAP could distribute hundreds of dollars in free food to each applicant.

The food stamps are available at several Cook and DuPage County locations until Friday.

Those who live or work in areas affected by last month's record flooding may qualify for aid. But many are wondering why those applying are not being asked to show proof that their home or business was damaged.

The prospect of free money drew thousands of people to line up outside Illinois Department of Human Services offices in Chicago and nearby suburbs.

"We need help right now, we're in a disaster," said Donna Coleman.

Coleman is among those who lined up for nearly eight hours in Melrose Park. She says she suffered flood damage during the summer storms. That damage included lost food.

Low income residents of zip codes that sustained flood damage can apply for $200 worth of electronic food stamps. Households with six people may receive nearly $950 in extra benefits.

"I had to miss work, I've been here since 6 o'clock this morning. It is what it is," said Coleman.

"Some of the people getting it and don't even have flood damage," said Carol Miller who is applying for assistance.

People are not being required to prove they actually lost food due to the floods.

"All you need is an ID and social security card. That's it," said Miller.

"Whenever people hear about something they think is free they're all going to come out," said Patricia Munoz, Illinois Dept. of Human Services.

Munoz oversees the emergency food stamp program. She admits money is essentially being handed out on the honor system.

"We're following guidelines we were given. As long as they attest they had some incurred cost," said Munoz when asked why proof of damage is not required.

People in line were pushing, shoving and shouting. At least three people had to be treated for heat exhaustion. By 1:30 in the afternoon police shut the line down, turning away people who had waited for hours, giving them a ticket to come back Wednesday.

"This is crazy. People gonna be fighting, people butting in line, people out here selling water. I've been out here since 6 a.m. and now they tell me to take a ticket. I might as well get a lottery ticket than stand in this line," said Ralph Boyd.

Federal officials are ordering the Illinois Department of Human Services to clarify its rules about who is eligible for flood assistance. They called the state after seeing the long lines of people waiting to apply for aid today at human services offices in the city and suburbs. Officials warn that anyone who is caught lying could be charged with fraud.

Click here for a complete list of locations, times and qualifications.

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