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California food stamps: 3.5M eligible don't enroll; $5B federal funds unclaimed

February 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Nearly 3.5 million Californians are eligible for food stamps, but don't enroll in the CalFresh Program.

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

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 could make it simpler," said Clegg. "It's sort of set up to be difficult, I believe."

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 just need to work harder to make sure that the access is there for people," said state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), Senate Budget Committee.

The California 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 good results. Are we where we want to be? No. But we are making progress," said CalFresh Branch Chief Linda Patterson.

Benefits are a maximum $200 a month.

"It helps a lot. Between that and the food banks, it's saving my family right now," said Clegg.


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