Keeley's bill would streamline reporting requirements and make it easier for low-income families to get Food Stamps.
Thursday, May 9, 2002
Less than half of Californians who are eligible for food stamps receive them. To many working poor people, the constant paperwork hassle and monthly income reports aren''t worth the modest food support.
Around 6,500 households in Monterey County receive food stamps, says Vivian Brown, a program manager in the County''s Social Services department. Brown says she doesn''t have any estimates as to how many County residents are eligible but don''t receive them.
The department has been working with schools and other county agencies to make sure people who qualify receive the food assistance they''re entitled too.
"But there may be some people who are not participating because of the paperwork requirements," Brown says.
A bill sponsored by state Rep. Fred Keeley aims to fix this problem.
AB 2415, recently passed by the Assembly Human Services Committee, would reduce the frequency of required income reports from one a month to one every three months. Keeley says this change would encourage program participation and provide administrative relief for county caseworkers overburdened by paperwork.
"If this bill goes through it will be a very positive change," Brown says.
Since the federal government adopted its welfare reforms in 1995, Califor- nia food stamp participation rates have dropped by 46 percent, from 3.25 million to 1.8 million. California now ranks seventh lowest in the nation in food assistance participation. And it''s not because the state has a low rate of hunger, say food policy advocates. In its most recent report on malnutrition, the USDA ranks California as eleventh in the nation.
And while 422 households from Pajaro to King City frequent the county''s emergency food pantries, only 13 percent of these families are currently receiving Food Stamps, says the Food Bank for Monterey County''s Pat Gadban.
"We are the largest single supplier of emergency and supplemental food in Monterey County because the people who are eligible for Food Stamps are not getting them," Gadban says, referring to the Food Bank''s 134 agencies and drop-off sites county-wide. "We have essentially become a safety net for people because Food Stamps [are not reaching them.]"
Much of this is attributed to California''s monthly income reporting system, requiring program participants to submit 12 sets of paperwork each year. It''s no fun for county welfare workers, either, who are tasked with reviewing these reports by hand every month. When a family submits a report late, or if a county worker makes a mistake on a recipient''s income eligibility form, the federal government fines the state. In April, the Feds announced a $115 million penalty because the state failed to respond to changes on client income reports and other payment-related inaccuracies.
Keeley says the penalty doesn''t mean that families who don''t deserve Food Stamps are beating the system or receiving too much food assistance. "This has nothing to do with fraud," Keeley says. "California is being penalized because [families] are doing their reporting the wrong way."
Keeley''s bill would replace monthly income reports with quarterly reports, and also create an "eligibility link" for families already receiving Medi-Cal. This step streamlines Food Stamp enrollment and eliminates many of the duplicative qualifications between the two programs.
"There are a number of people on Medi-Cal who currently don''t receive Food Stamps," Keeley says. "This will increase the number of people who get Food Stamps."
In Monterey County 22,000 households receive Medi-Cal benefits compared to the 6,500 households receiving Food Stamps.
On May 14, local hunger advocates will join advocates from all over the state in a rally supporting Keeley''s bill on the steps of the State Capitol.
"By stripping away unnecessary administrative liabilities and reducing red tape... AB 2415 will allow California to capture the cost savings, make it easier for families in need to receive this assistance and the state to administer these much-needed programs," Keeley says.