Starting next month, food benefits through Delaware’s Food Supplement Program will be disbursed to the nearly 154,000 current recipients in the state over a longer period of time.

According to the Department of Health and Social Services, recipients now receive funds on an EBT card on a scheduled date between the fifth and 11th of the month.

The benefits are used quickly after being disbursed which causes congestion at grocery stores and depletes supplies quickly, according to Elaine Archangelo, director of the Division of Social Services.

“I think for the retailers, when we compress so many people who receive benefits within a five or six day period, it’s hard for them to maintain stock, to maintain staff and to give good customer service to everyone,” explained Archangelo.

Under the new disbursement schedule, funds will be uploaded to EBT cards on a scheduled date over a 15-day period, from the second to the 16th of the month.

Archangelo added that the DHSS has seen substantial growth in the number of residents requesting food assistance. In the past five years the number of recipients has more than doubled from 72,000 in 2008 to 157,000 expected to receive benefits by the end of 2013.

The average client benefit is around $127 a month, and the state pays approximately $19.5 million a month in food benefits.

The new plan will be phased in over a two week period beginning in March, and Archangelo said the schedule adjustment might cause a three to four day lapse for people expecting to see their benefits on their regularly scheduled disbursement day. DHSS has mailed notices to recipients, posted fliers in grocery stores and updated their website with the new schedule details.

“We’ve done some outreach to all of the food banks to alert them that people may be knocking on their door between the 11th and the 17th, and we also have small food closets in our various offices and so we’re also geared to the fact that we might have to help people through that one month period,” she said.

Anyone with questions or concerns can call the DHSS customer service line at (800) 372-2022.