In Onondaga County 16% use food stamps

Charles Barlow, 83, uses SNAP benefits to support his wife suffering from dementia.

Charles Barlow, 83, of Solvay uses snap benefits, formerly known as food stamps, to pay for his groceries as he cares for his 98-year-old wife suffering from dementia.

"I need them to eat. I need them to exist," says Barlow.

Barlow isn't alone. According to the most recent information released by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, 16% of people in Onondaga County use the benefits, which is a 105% increase since 2000.

Experts say there are a lot of different reasons contributing to the increase.

At the Food Bank of Central New York, Amalia Swan has witnessed the increase firsthand, as she helps struggling families apply for federal assistance.

"The reasons are widespread. We have the issue of long term unemployment. We have more families having to utilize because we see people having to use unemployment benefits as the only income to feed their household," says Swan.

In addition, the government has eased the requirements in recent years, allowing people with slightly higher incomes and savings to take advantage of the program, in hopes they can benefit before hitting rock bottom.

The Obama administration also waived a rule that required those eligible to look for a job or be enrolled in job training to qualify. It's a change that allows older Americans like Barlow to get help.

"I feel like I earned them. I worked until I was 80. I'd still be working if it hadn't been for her," says Barlow, referring to his disabled wife.

It's help many people rely on to survive.