Famine, No Feast
Cali food stamp requirements are onerous, but local agencies try to ease the pain.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Monterey County is making food stamp applications easier for the growing number of people who can no longer afford to feed their families, while tough state eligibility requirements still keep many hungry Californians out of the federally funded program, according to a study by the Sacramento-based California Budget Project.
Monterey County has joined 10 others in the state that provide online applications and no longer require in-person interviews to verify eligibility.
But the CBP study finds that restrictive program requirements that still apply in the county put California next to last in the country in food stamp participation.
“We think California should move fast to reduce red tape,” says CBP spokesman Scott Graves, citing a rule that makes childless couples or individuals with more than $2,000 in savings ineligible for the program, and another requirement that food stamp recipients be fingerprinted.
“Easing asset rules will have a big impact on families who used to be higher on the income ladder,” says CBP Executive Director Jean Ross. “The primary beneficiaries of the recommendations are people who have lost their jobs and never thought they’d be looking at the food stamp program before.”
Ditto, says Leslie Sunny, who directs the Food Bank for Monterey County. Last week, 1,200 people lined up for bags of groceries in East Salinas, and several dozen left empty-handed simply because the organization lacks the capacity to meet skyrocketing need.
CBP found that every dollar in food stamps increased economic activity by $1.73. “When families have food stamps, it frees up money to buy clothing and put gas in their car,” Ross says. “There’s a direct financial benefit.”
State Department of Social Services spokeswoman Lizelda Lopez says the agency is considering ways to expand participation; however, for years Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed bills that would ease up on state eligibility requirements because he contends the administrative costs of serving more people would add tens of millions of dollars to a budget already soaked in red ink.