The county's Board of Social Services offices in Toms River, Stafford and Lakewood townships saw a combined 11,401 clients in July and 11,414 in August.
"Since 2007, the Ocean County Board of Social Services has led the state in increased requests for emergency assistance, General Assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families," said Freeholder Gerry P. Little, who serves as liaison to the Board of Social Services, in a statement. "Only two other counties outnumber our requests for food stamps, also known as SNAP."
About 62,000 people in Ocean County are currently receiving food stamps, officials said. The county's population was 580,470 according to 2012 U.S. Census estimates.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families caseload has increased 77 percent since 2007, with more than 1,500 families receiving TANF assistance, representing the highest percentage increase in the state, the county said in a statement issued Thursday.
General Assistance also has increased by 109 percent since 2007, also the highest in the state with about 2,700 beneficiaries, while emergency assistance for families has skyrocketed by a staggering 201 percent since 2007, again representing a highest-in-New Jersey increase, with more than 506 families currently receiving help.
Overall social services demand in the same time period is up about 150 percent.
County officials point to the fact that many residents are still suffering from the economic effects of Sandy – as well as loosened eligibility requirements for many programs – as the reasons behind the increase, plus the continued troubled state of the economy.
The county's social services office is also gearing up for a potential increase in Medicaid applications since the Affordable Care Act – colloquially known as Obamacare – makes more people eligible to take advantage of that program.
"It is estimated that over 17,000 people in the county may qualify for the expanded Medicaid program which is administered by the Board of Social Services," Little said, warning that while county employees will work as fast as they can to process applications, there could be some delays.
The county's programs are mainly funded by the federal government, officials say. Together, the county administers about $600 million in benefits each year on a $21 million administrative budget.
"We do all we can to make sure the needy and the vulnerable are
given the help they need with the hopes they will again become
self-sufficient," said Freeholder James F. Lacey, in a statement.