LAWRENCE COUNTY Voucher plan draws protests

The food voucher April 12 will include an Easter ham.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Some Lawrence County residents aren't happy with changes to the county's supplemental food program.
Several senior citizens at Tuesday's county commissioners meeting spoke about problems with the change from food distribution to grocery store vouchers.
Senior citizens and other residents who qualify for the supplemental food distribution are given vouchers to be used at area Giant Eagle stores.
Transportation problem
Seniors asked commissioners to reconsider the plan because they say it is difficult for some seniors and disabled residents with no transportation and no family in the area to get to a Giant Eagle.
They said the county should allow smaller, independent grocers to participate, rather than dealing exclusively with Giant Eagle. Commissioner Brian Burick said next year the commissioners will accept bids from any area supermarket or neighborhood grocery that applies.
Articia Foster, coordinator of the supplemental food program, later said the voucher program is working well for most recipients. She said no matter how the program is implemented, some people will be inconvenienced.
She said she is advising people who want to participate in the April 12 distribution to begin making arrangements now for transportation to the nearest Giant Eagle store.
Foster said the program is not meant to meet residents' monthly food needs, but rather to supplement those needs. The county makes about four distributions each year, and February's distribution was the first in which vouchers were used.
Recipients are given a voucher with a list of foods they are to receive. The April 12 distribution will include a ham for Easter, she said.
Foster said the new system is more difficult for some residents because residents of low-income high-rise buildings were used to county workers' taking the food directly to those buildings. Distribution for most residents, however, was done at the state armory on the southeast side of New Castle, Foster said.
At the armory, people stood outside in line for hours waiting for the food, she said.
Meanwhile, military buildup since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and preparation for possible war in Iraq has made scheduling at the armory difficult, she said.
Foster said that even when the commissioners contract with food stores through a bidding process next year, the voucher system still will be used.
Perishable staples available
By awarding vouchers rather than distributing food, the county can use the state money to provide perishable staples such as milk, eggs, meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Foster added that about 1,800 people registered for the February distribution and many are already applying for the April 12 distribution.