Food stamp recruiter must enroll 150 seniors in the program a month

Font Size:

A Florida food stamp recruiter is tasked with enrolling at least 150 senior citizens in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program a month, The Washington Post reports in a profile about SNAP outreach.

Following 56 year old recruiter Dillie Nerios perform her task, to appeal to seniors to get them to sign up for food stamp benefits, The Post offers additional insight into the program — which has reached record participation levels in recent months — currently feeding more than 47 million people, or one in seven Americans.

The story follows recruiter Dillie Nerios, 56, as she encourages approaches potentially SNAP-eligible seniors to join the program with the help of gift baskets.

“Help is available,” The Post reports Nerios saying to hundreds of seniors each week. “You deserve it. So, yes or no?”

“Rhode Island hosts SNAP-themed bingo games for the elderly. Alabama hands out fliers that read: ‘Be a patriot. Bring your food stamp money home.’ Three states in the Midwest throw food-stamp parties where new recipients sign up en masse,” the Post reports.

Nerios uses her charm and appeals to potential beneficiaries’ sense of patriotism and entitlement.

“A Korean War veteran on oxygen who mostly wanted to talk, so Nerios listened: 32 years in the military, a sergeant major, Germany, Iron Curtain, medals and awards. ‘A hell of a life,’ the veteran said. ‘So if I signed up, what would I tell my wife?'” The Post reports. “‘Tell her you’re an American and this is your benefit,’ Nerios said, pulling him away from the crowd, so he could write the 26th name of the day on her SNAP sign-up sheet.”

Nerios also belays the fears of another potential recruit worried about becoming “another person depending on the government.”

“How about being another person getting the help you deserve?” she responds.

The SNAP brochures she keeps in tow boast of the ease in applying, and claim that enrolling helps the local economy. And Nerios makes sure to check in on those she has not completely hooked by calling them on their cellphones.

“The offer of more help came early the next morning,” The Post narrates. “Nerios reached Lonnie [a potential recruit] on his cellphone to check on his interest in SNAP. ‘Can I help sign you up?’ she asked. ‘I’m still not sure,’ he said. ‘We have a lot of frozen vegetables in the freezer.'”

“Don’t wait until you’re out,” she responded.

Still, The Post notes, Nerios is not personally aggressive when trying to recruit seniors to SNAP.

“Nerios prefers a subtler touch [than the agriculture department’s guide to ‘overcome the word ‘no’]. ‘It’s about patience, empathy,’ she said. While she makes a middle-class salary and had never been on food stamps herself, she knows the emotional exhaustion that comes at the end of each month, after a few hundred conversations about money that didn’t exist,” The Post reports.

“Nowhere had the SNAP program grown as it has in Florida, where enrollment had risen from 1.45 million people in 2008 to 3.35 million last year. And no place in Florida had been reshaped by the recession quite like the Treasure Coast, where middle-class retirees lost their savings in the housing collapse, forcing them to live on less than they expected for longer than they expected. Sometimes, Nerios believes it is more important to protect a client’s sense of self-worth than to meet her quota.”

The Post contends that some of the expansion in the program is due, not only to the recession, but also promotion and recruiters like Nerios.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately pinned the timeframe for enrollment. The time period for a recruiter to enroll 150 seniors is monthly, not daily.

Follow Caroline on Twitter