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Vouchers help needy families buy back-to-school clothes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Since the mid-1970s, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has provided clothing vouchers for low-income school-age children. In 2011, more than 80,000 children received $200 in vouchers. The program is funded through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Vouchers were distributed in mid-July (the deadline to apply for the program was July 31, as it is every year). Families with one eligible child received two $100 vouchers. Families with more than one eligible child received a $200 voucher per child. The $200 vouchers do not have to be used on a single child; they may be used for all eligible children in the family. Vouchers must be used by Oct. 31.

DHHR Deputy Commissioner Melissa Rosen said each voucher must be spent at one store, and the client uses it like cash.

"Some stores have designated checkout lines, just to make the process easier since they have to sign the forms, check their IDs, etc., but generally it's very easy for the client," Rosen said. Stores must be registered with the DHHR before they can take vouchers.

"I've taken a lot of calls, personally, from stores wanting to be included in the program. They hear from other stores that it's a good thing to do. Many consignment stores are taking the vouchers now, which I think is a great bang for the buck," Rosen said.

Rosen said each county has an office that can help clients with questions. In Kanawha County, Maureen Rogers is coordinator of vouchers for the Kanawha County Department of Health and Human Resources, 4190 Washington St., 304-746-2360, ext. 2368; 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Items eligible to be purchased with clothing vouchers include: belts, blouses, boots, bowties, caps, coats, dresses, earmuffs, gloves, handkerchiefs, hats, hosiery, insoles, jackets, jeans, mittens, mufflers, neckties, pants, piece goods (patterns, thread, zippers, buttons, shoulder pads, elastic material), raincoats, shirts, shoestrings, shorts, skirts, slacks, socks, suspenders, sweaters, tennis shoes, underclothes (panties, bras, briefs, undershorts, T-shirts, slips) and vests.

Items not eligible include: accessories, backpacks, bandanas, belt bags, belt buckles, billfolds, book bags, calculators, dancewear, duffle bags, exercise wear, food items, hair accessories, health and beauty aids, infants clothing, jewelry, key rings, pouches, promo bags, purses, scarves and headbands, school supplies, scout uniforms, sewing supplies (needles, lace, appliqués, ribbons, bobbins, baste and sew stick), shoe cleaner, sleepwear (pajamas, nightgowns, slippers, robes, sleep socks, flannel lounge pants), sporting goods, hunting outfits, sunglasses, sweatbands, swimwear, umbrellas, visors, wallets and wristbands.

Purchases are exempt from sales tax. If a customer returns items to the store, no cash can be given to the customer. Since many children wear adult-size clothing, it may be purchased.

Rosen said vendors interested in accepting the voucher should call Patricia Nelson, the director of the Division of Payments and Vendor Maintenance, 304-356-4541.

"If a reader believes they should have received a voucher but did not, they should contact their local DHHR office/worker. The link to DHHR offices/phone numbers is http://www.wvdhhr.org/bcf/county/,";; Rosen said.

Billy Rasnake, manager of the Patrick Street Kmart store, said the system is better now for vendors than it has been in the past.

"They've made the paperwork easier for us to submit," he said.

Rosen was positive about the benefits of the voucher system.

"We love it -- it's a great program. At this time of year we get a lot of good feedback."

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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