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Oct 6, 6:21 PM EDT

Thousands in Houston line up for food benefits after Harvey



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HOUSTON (AP) -- Thousands of Houston-area residents still recovering from financial hardships caused by flooding from Harvey nearly six weeks ago lined up outside the city's convention center on Friday to meet the application deadline for state disaster food relief benefits.

Residents like Fayne Manuel who waited for hours in a line that snaked around the convention center and under a highway said the assistance will help them feed their families as they continue making up for lost wages and unexpected expenses due to Harvey.

"I don't have the resources to go and just do full on grocery shopping because once Harvey went over, I still had to pay so many things to try to catch up and replace and to get back to anywhere near normal," said Manuel, 43, a medical supply delivery driver who didn't work for two weeks and whose home was flooded after Harvey inundated the Houston-area with days of rainfall in late August. "This right here will help suffice what I lost."

Like Manuel, many who stood in line brought foldable chairs, umbrellas and water bottles as they waited to apply for benefits from the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, at the George R. Brown Convention Center, which during Harvey was used as a shelter that housed up to 10,000 people.

D-SNAP is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the federal nutrition program formerly known as food stamps, that lets individuals buy food at grocery stores and other locations. D-SNAP provides short-term benefits for eligible families recovering from a natural disaster. Eligibility is based on household size and meeting income guidelines. Applicants must also be from a county that has been declared a federal disaster area.

More than 260,000 individuals in Harris County, where Houston is located, have applied for the benefits.

Wayne Salter, associate commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, said D-SNAP will help people who might not have applied for such benefits before, but after Harvey now need some help because they "had to divert the amount they would have spent for food to repair the roof or meet insurance deductibles."

The average amount a household of four will get under the program is $1,298. The amount a household gets is a one-time award. Individuals who receive SNAP benefits and who are in a county declared a disaster area got an increase in their benefits due to Harvey.

Normally, the state spends about five days taking such applications after a natural disaster but because of Houston's size, officials have spent 15 days accepting applications in Harris County, Salter said. Houston is the nation's fourth-largest city.

Friday was the last day to apply for D-SNAP in Harris County. Most of the 39 counties declared federal disaster areas after Harvey have closed their application periods.

The application deadline was extended by a day in Harris County due to longer than expected lines at many of the locations, including some community centers, which had been accepting applications through Thursday.

Salter said officials had sufficient staff at these locations but some of the long lines were due to the logistics of the centers.

"We prepared for the masses. But always, you don't know what you are going to have until you show up and you open the doors," Salter said.

Elizabeth Johnson, 37, who works at Home Depot, said the benefits will be "a huge help" and that they are an important part of helping families like hers who were flooded recover from Harvey.

"Don't be afraid to ask ... accept the help," she said.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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