LA official apologizes for food stamp confusion in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A state official apologized Wednesday for confusion that led some New Orleans residents to the wrong location to sign up for emergency food stamps after Hurricane Gustav.

State Department of Social Services Secretary Ann Williamson blamed a last-minute decision to move the application point from a New Orleans church, where an estimated 2,000 had lined up in sweltering heat on Tuesday, to the air-conditioned Morial Convention Center.

Long lines plagued the post-Gustav federal food stamp program Tuesday in New Orleans and other cities.

There were long lines again Wednesday at the Morial Center but they had diminished by afternoon. Williamson said the state trained an additional 320 staffers to deploy around Louisiana and that about 1,500 applications were processed at the Morial Center in roughly two hours Wednesday.

Williamson also said the state has asked U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to extend the sign-up period from seven days to 14 days - which would continue it through Sept. 23.

In a news release, Williams said that the application sites will remain open until 8 p.m. and that sites in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Jefferson, Lafayette and Sorrento will open at 6 a.m.

Williamson stressed that the federal Disaster Food Stamps Program has strictly defined income eligibility and can only be used for the purchase of food. She also noted that those already in the regular food stamp program do not need to apply because their benefits will automatically be raised to the maximum amount allowable for September and their August benefits have been increased by 20 percent to replace lost food.

Even as the recovery from Gustav continued, residents in Cameron Parish were under a mandatory evacuation order in preparation for Hurricane Ike, state police said. Ike was in the Gulf of Mexico and heading for a projected landfall on the Texas coast early Saturday. Cameron Parish is a coastal parish on the Texas state line.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)