SPRINGFIELD — At a crowded Amvets hall on La. 42, Kidimi Simmons, of Livingston Parish, soaked up the sun Wednesday while her 76-year-old grandmother waited inside for an answer on her disaster food stamps’ application.
After Hurricane Isaac knocked out power for four days, Simmons’ grandmother lost all the food in her deep freeze and refrigerator.
“I hope she gets enough to at least replace half of what she lost. Something is better than nothing,” Simmons, 30, said. “I try to help, ... but I don’t make much money and I have two kids.”
Hundreds of people showed up at community gathering places across southeast Louisiana Wednesday to receive the federal government’s help in restocking their pantries in the wake of the category 1 storm.
The state Department of Children and Family Services sorted people by surname, asking those with last names beginning with A, B or C to show up Wednesday. Next up, on Thursday, are those with surnames starting with letters D through G.
At application sites in Springfield and Gonzales, state workers guided storm victims through the application process, handing them cold water, a snack and a number at the entrance before directing them to a waiting area. Louisiana National Guardsmen handled the traffic, encouraging motorists to treat the grassy field in front of the Amvets hall like a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Four years ago, following hurricanes Gustav and Ike, an outpouring of people looking for help replacing their groceries overwhelmed DCFS, then called the state Department of Social Services. Some applicants showed up for benefits only to be told to return the next day.
State Social Services Secretary Ann Silverberg Williamson resigned after Gov. Bobby Jindal criticized her agency’s handling of storm-related food stamps and shelters.
After the 2008 hurricanes, the state revamped the disaster food stamp program to reduce long waits and to decrease fraud. The changes included allowing residents to pre-apply online or by telephone.
On Wednesday, applicants praised the process.
Holding onto her 1-year-old son’s hand, Gabrielle Augusta walked out of Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales less than two hours after she arrived.
Augusta, 23, received roughly $500 in assistance for herself, her 5-year-old daughter and her son to replace the food they lost when the electricity went out at their Gonzales home.
“It went fast and they were nice. They were friendly with him,” Augusta said, gesturing toward her energetic toddler.
Donna Abbott, 47, left Lamar-Dixon without any assistance despite evacuating her Sorrento home twice for Isaac. The size of Abbott’s household income made her ineligible.
Still, Abbott said, she was pleased with the efficiency she saw before heading home.
More than 100,000 people filed pre-applications for the Disaster Supplemental Assistance Program. The aid is commonly referred to as food stamps. It will benefit low-to-moderate-income households in Ascension, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes.
Wednesday was the first day applicants could be approved or denied the assistance.
DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier seemed pleased with the first day of the disaster food stamp process.
“Hearing great things about DSNAP sites in Ascension, Livingston and St. John. Lines moving quickly. 200+ served in St. John already,” Sonnier tweeted at noon Wednesday.
State workers will continue to meet with applicants through early next week. The amount of assistance depends on the size of the household.