Millions of eligible Californians don't enroll for food stamps

February 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
About half the Californians who could receive food stamps, don't. That means California is missing out on billions of dollars in federal money that could be used to support local businesses.

Nearly 3.5 million Californians are eligible for food stamps, but don't enroll in the CalFresh Program. A new report by the California Food Policy Advocates found the participation rate is only 55 percent.

"In California, we have more barriers than the rest of the country. That's absolutely why we have the lowest participation rate," Western Center on Law & Poverty spokesperson Jessica Bartholow said.

California requires things like fingerprinting and reporting of income every three months. Adrienne Clegg just applied for food stamps and found it frustrating. "I think they can make it simpler. I think they can make it a lot simpler. It's sort of set up to be difficult, I believe," she said.

With 45 percent of the people falling through the cracks, the report also found California leaves nearly $5 billion of federal nutrition money unclaimed.

If the state were able to enroll more people and get that $5 billion for families to spend on food, they would be able to spend more of their earnings in other local stores and businesses.

"It's a win all the way around and we need to work harder to make sure the access is there for people," State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said.

The Department of Social Services believes newer numbers will show a 67 percent participation rate, still the agency knows it can do better. Outreach has been beefed up to low income families who may not know they're eligible and to seniors who often feel too embarrassed to ask for help.

"This administration has really put a strong effort on that and we're starting to see results. Are we where we want to be? No. But we are making progress," CalFresh Branch Chief Linda Patterson said.

Benefits are a maximum $200 a month. "It helps a lot. Between that and the food bank, it's saving my family right now, Clegg said.


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