Freeholder John Curley (right) of Middletown has declared a “food stamp emergency” after learning that Monmouth County’s government has fallen three months behind on processing food stamp applications from the needy.

Curley, who assumed oversight of the county Department of Human Services last month, said in a press announcement Tuesday that he has ordered an “immediate acceleration” of the review process.

“It is unacceptable in Monmouth County for any of our citizens to go hungry when they are eligible under federal criteria to receive food stamps,” he said.

More from his announcement:

Mindful of the continuing economic recession, Curley has authorized a quick response team to handle live telephone calls to facilitate the distribution of the food stamps. The primary intent is to expedite the processing of applications to provide benefits as quickly as possible to all eligible county residents.

“I have ordered five part-time employees to be employed within the county’s food stamp division to handle inquiries that will meet the needs so our citizenry is not dealing with voicemail and not getting return phone calls,” Curley said. “No one should go hungry if they are eligible for food stamps.”

Residents who need an update on the status of an existing food stamp application should call the Monmouth County Department of Human Services at 732-431-6000.

Since 2007, requests for food stamps have increased 144 percent, with active cases going from 7,000 to more than 17,000 annually. The hiring of five part-time, entry level clerks will assist with calls coming into the food stamp unit by providing application updates, facilitating submission of proper documentation and general clerical support to the food stamp caseworkers.

 “This is a sign of the times,” Curley said. “The economic downturn has had a devastating effect on home life in Monmouth County. We are far too wonderful and good a county to allow that to happen.”

Curley said that his review of food pantries throughout the county has shown they need help from other residents to help feed the hungry. “I ask that every county resident who can afford to do so, give to their local food bank or food pantry,” Curley said. “Churches, not-for profits and local food banks are in need of our support. Make your contribution today.”

Curley, a former Red Bank councilman and unsuccessful mayoral contender, is in the third year of his term as freeholder, and now heads that five-member body as director.