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New report says Calif. passing up food stamps

February 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Despite hard times and a troubled economy, a new report says a lot of Californians are passing up food stamps.

Millions of Californians rely on food stamps to buy groceries. But California's numbers are well below the national average.

"It's not embarrassing for me," said San Bernardino resident Stacy Morgan. "But sometimes it is, because you go through there and buy food, and you put your card down and people look at you like 'this guys poor, he's on food stamps, he has nothing'."

But as embarrassing as it may seem, more than 3.5 million Californians use food stamps. And while that may sound like a big number, it's not really.

Across the nation, 54 percent of the working poor use food stamps. In West Virginia for example, it's 91 percent.

But in California, it's only 31 percent. That's the lowest percentage of any state in the country. The question is why do such a small percentage of people actually bother to apply for food stamps? The answer might be because there's so much red tape in California, mainly to prevent fraud.

"Sometimes food stamps are a hard process," said Morgan. "Because you have to wait in line and wait for them to call you and everything, then the process of fingerprinting."

"They ask for too many things," said Valencia resident Lawrence Cisneros. "They want your job verification, if you work two months this year, you don't get stamps for the next eight months, and they penalize you."

But while fraud prevention in California may be higher than other states, this state also provides more supplemental benefits than other places.

"They get more in CalWORKS benefits in other states," said David Wert, spokesman for San Bernardino County. "And that reduces people's reliance and eligibility for food stamps."

Still, it is food for thought. At a time when so many of the working poor say they need help, only one out of three people uses food stamps in California.