BALTIMORE – Three Maryland Food Stamp Program clients won $500 bonuses Wednesday for their ideas to change the name of the program.
The winning entries were The Food Supplement Program by Marva Johnson of Baltimore, The Food Assistance Program by Robin Lee of Baltimore, and the Thrive Program by Marsha French of Howard County. Their bonus will be credited to their food stamp accounts.
Three winners were also chosen from staff at local social services departments, however they did not receive bonuses.
The winning employee names were Assisting Families to Eat Right or AFTER by Cindy Smith of Cecil County Social Services, Electronic Access to Sustenance or EATS by Sharon Shafer of Washington County Social Services and Eat Better Today or EBT by Chris Long, also of the Washington County Social Services.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources held the statewide Re-Name the Food Stamp Program contest beginning in August, in which anyone could submit entries at their nearest social services department.
Merchants, through the Maryland Retailers Association, including Safeway, Giant Food and Sav-A-Lot, donated $1,500 in food coupons and gift cards to the contest.
“I actually submitted 10 entries,” said 54-year-old French, whose husband attended the ceremony with her. “It’s important to me, and I think it’s a heck of a legacy if you get to name or be a participant in something like this that works.”
The program no longer issues paper vouchers, but rather applies food stamp benefits to a debit card called an Independence Card.
California became the last state to implement the electronic system in July, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking for a more suitable name.
In 1993, Maryland became the first state in the country to have the electronic benefits transfer system available statewide, and officials say it is fitting Maryland also be a leader in offering a new name.
“We’ve really outgrown this name here,” said Elyn Jones, a spokeswoman for the department. “When the electronic system first started, Baltimore was the pilot for utilizing the card. We were out front then, and we’ll go out front again.”
Many creative names were submitted, including Meals for Millions, American Breadbasket Program, Food on the Table Program and HOOP (Helping Others Out Program), according to a press release.
Lee, 32, said she believes changing the name will help remove the stigma attached to the program, and help people feel prouder to shop.
“It’s a label, and when people hear it, everybody backs off,” said Lee. “Assistance has more meaning, its not like somebody is just giving you something, they’re just assisting or helping you.”
In July 2004, more than 24 million people participated in the Food Stamp Program nationally, with 278,324 in Maryland.
Only about 54 percent of eligible people use the program, according to the Census Bureau.
Although officials suggest changing the name may at first be confusing, they are confident it will help bring more attention to the availability of the program.
“It’s just all in the name and how it’s presented,” said Lee.
– 30 – CNS-10-13-04