County To Provide $100K To Area Food Pantries

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners agreed to give $100,000 to local food pantries.

Rather than participate in a state program that would have distributed aid based on zip code, the commissioners agreed to give $100,000 to local organizations that worked to feed the hungry.

“Worcester County can take care of Worcester County,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “For the state to come down here and tell us how we’re supposed to allocate, and discriminate against one zip code over another zip code, I just have a real problem with it. I’d just rather us handle it by ourselves.”

At a meeting Tuesday, the commissioners were presented with a request from the Worcester County Department of Social Services to apply to participate in the Maryland Summer SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) initiative. The state program, which requires matching funds from the county, is intended to reduce food insecurity during the months children are not in school. The state has $200,000 set aside to provide SNAP benefits, which would consist of an extra $30 added to EBT cards of participating households in June, July and August and $10 extra in December.

Bertino was quick to express reservations about the program, which he said was based on the unfair funding formula the county was burdened with. He said Worcester County would be required to match 50% of the grant while Wicomico County would only have to match 5% and Somerset would only have to match 4%. He also said he wasn’t sure the extra funding would actually result in more food for local children.

“Would this grant money get to the people we want it to get to?” he said.

Ellen Payne of the Worcester County Department of Social Services said that the funding would be applied to a family’s EBT card.

“One would assume children would get the food but there’d be no way to guarantee what the parent is actually doing with their EBT card,” she said.

Payne said all counties were able to apply for the program and the state had $200,000 to disburse. She said that if Worcester received enough funding to benefit all 1,734 SNAP eligible students, the county’s matching portion would be $86,700. Staff said $100,000 had been set aside in the county’s fund balance.

Bertino said that when the state only had $200,000 to give out it was highly unlikely the county would get anywhere near enough money to help all the eligible students. If a reduced amount of funding is received, the state mandates that it be distributed based on zip code.

“That’s wrong,” Bertino said. “I have problems with the way this grant is written by the state. I’m not going to support it because I don’t think it’s as comprehensive, or as targeted, and quite truthfully the funding’s not there.”

Commissioner Jim Bunting agreed.

“Just using the state education fund formula is a joke,” he said. “The amount is a joke.”

He pointed out the state had $200,000 to distribute when there were 185,000 students in Maryland eligible for free meals.

Diana Purnell, president of the commissioners, said she didn’t support the county’s unfair education funding formula but wanted to see local children receive whatever help they needed to ensure they didn’t go hungry.

“We’ve got a problem, so if we’re on the hook for $10,000 fine then we do that because we spend a lot of money on a lot of other issues that doesn’t necessarily all the time hit our kids,” she said. “We also say this puts the taxpayers on the hook. Well the kids’ parents are taxpayers and they are struggling.”

Bunting and Bertino said they’d rather donate directly to local groups that helped feed those in need.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he was afraid that if the funding was distributed based on zip code Ocean City children wouldn’t receive any aid.

“In the winter time in Ocean City we have a tremendous about of lower income families because they come into town for the winter rental rates,” he said. “Some of the people that need this program would be cut out. I would rather not the state dictate what we do with this money. … I think we have the volunteer network, we have the professionals in this county that know far better where the money needs to go and where it needs to be to feed the county.”

Purnell pointed out that the county only gave the Maryland Food Bank $5,000 during the last budget process.

When Bertino made a motion to use the $100,000 set aside for the SNAP program to give to local organizations, Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said he supported that concept but didn’t want to leave state money on the table.

Mitrecic acknowledged that concern but argued that if funding was given directly to local food pantries they could use it to purchase nutritious food for local kids.

“You can buy potato chips and corn chips with an EBT card,” he said. “That’s considered food. Everybody has the right to eat what they want to eat but if I think we’re using public money or state money that we would want nutritious food to be put on the table for these kids as opposed to snack foods.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve Bertino’s motion to allocate $100,000 to local organizations that help feed those in need.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.