More Californians turn to food stamps

SACRAMENTO At about a dollar-a-meal in benefits, food stamp recipients had it tough even before the economy slowed down. Now that grocery prices have spiked, the money doesn't last as long.

"I get my food stamps on the 9th, and it lasts until the 20th," said James Powers. "The next 10, 11 days I'm broke."

But with so many Californians out of work and low wage earners struggling to pay for other things, something is better than nothing. As low as the benefits are, food stamp offices around the state are jam-packed with people looking for help.

The California Department of Social Services says applications have been steadily rising from 95,000 in January of 2006 to 102,000 just one year later. This past January, 124,000 people filled out the forms.

The telling statistic is how many Californians are now on food stamps. The number held steady in 2006 and 2007 at about two million. It's now 2.2 million -- 200,000 people more over two years.

"Food prices are causing people to run out of money at the end of the month. They either have to get food stamps, or they're going to food banks," said Mike Herald from the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

Food banks, though, are struggling too. At California Emergency FoodLink, workers field an increasing number of requests every day for their federally-subsidized foods.

"Food banks throughout the state are asking and calling for more food," said John Healey from California Emergency FoodLink. "We're the number one agriculture state. We produce more food than anyone. It doesn't make sense people in California are going hungry."

The 2007 Farm Bill stuck in Congress now does have a provision to raise the food stamp benefits. But as proposed, it would boost from a dollar-a-meal to about $1.50.


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