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County Supervisors Discuss Ways To Increase Local Food Stamp Enrollment


County Supervisors are once-again looking at ways to improve the food stamp program. The supervisors this week discussed increasing enrollment in the food stamp program, and asked county staff to report back with a plan in 90 days. We discuss the food stamp recommendations, and assess what might be different this time as the county board remains the same.

County Supervisors are once-again looking at ways to improve the food stamp program. The supervisors this week discussed increasing enrollment in the food stamp program, and asked county staff to report back with a plan in 90 days. We discuss the food stamp recommendations, and assess what might be different this time as the county board remains the same.


JW August, managing editor for 10 News.

Andrew Donohue, editor of

Kent Davy, editor of the North County Times.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

GLORIA PENNER: Next story, election day on November 2nd is just a memory. The two challenged San Diego supervisors were reelected again. The board of five remains exactly as it's been since the mid-1990s. So has anything changed after the criticisms about the board that were piled on during the campaign? JW, let's talk with the much reviled county food stamp program. This week, the board agreed to consider 69 recommendations to improve it. And before we get to the recommendations, what are the criticisms of the county's record at distributing food stamps to the needy.

JW AUGUST: Poor. It's a very poor record. Probably one of the worst in the United States. It took studies from -- and pressure from the feds to get them to actually do something about it, which is a shame. Of I mean, because they're there -- I just thought about all the people that go to bed hungry in our county, and why did that have to happen? Why did it take so long? Why were they so reactionary? Why did they make somebody asking for food stamps out to be a criminal?


JW AUGUST: The assumption that they're up to no good, I mean, some people do need the food for their families of it was pretty shameful. But according to the most recent developments, it looks like they're making progress. But it's a shame that they gotta get beaten over the head to do it.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, there's actually been criticism, hasn't there know drew, of the food stamp program by federal regulators?

ANDREW DONAHUE: Sure, there's been criticism all across the board here. We are the worst of any major metro area in getting eligible people signed up for food stamps, we have been for a long time, and the numbers there are actually quite shocking how low we are compared to other cities of that's because we have a system essentially in San Diego County that discourages people from signing up, where most regions and most cities and counties are working hard to make sure their residents are aware of what's available to them and getting that federal assistance. We are putting up roadblocks and really creating a cultural stigma against that. Now the county has been criticized, it has been shown the numbers, and I think we are starting to see progress and some positive changes in that they're actually listening and bringing in their strongest critics right now, and starting to make should some progress. So far I think there's about to be a lot of positive over a negative topic.

GLORIA PENNER: It is a negative topic, isn't it, and I'd like to hear from our listeners on this. Have you gone to the county in any regard whether it be food stamps or any kind of help as this economy continues to suffer, and what has your experience been? And if you did it before and you're doing it now, have you seen any improvement? Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Is it right to say that the buck stops with the supervisors on this, Kent? Or you know, are county workers doing their job the best they know how, and maybe they haven't had the training, maybe they're not the right personalities of maybe there's not enough money to make the locations for food stamps hospitable. What?

KENT DAVY: I think that two things. One, sure, it's right to say the buck stops with the sups, they are the people who set the policy. It is a set of policies that originally attempted to ratchet down and be very fiscally conservative on either the money moving out or moving through them that resulted in a great deal of a tilt towards trying to stamp out all possibility of welfare fraud going on in the distribution of food stamps. The criticism has grown -- criticism's been around for years now. Two years ago, the county finally started moving towards reforming its procedures and making food stamps more available. There was a set of changes that were made. My recollection, it was about a year ago, or so that started to move the county. Now with this latest set of recommendations, they will move a little bit farther down. The supervisors have said that they will attempt to try and make food stamps more accessible and get more people onto the roles who are eligible. And part of that will be them setting some policy that's not so onerous in terms of trying to get qualified and stay qualified.

GLORIA PENNER: But Andrew, one of the recommendations was providing coffee and children's play areas at the food stamp centers that give other benefits. I mean, sure would be nice to have hot coffee, but if you've got an empty belly, what good does the hot coffee do? And if you're gonna send the kids there to play, they're gonna play all day, and you just hang out.

ANDREW DONAHUE: Well, this goes to the core of changing culture. You've seen from a long time that from the top down to the supervisors, down to the employees that the mantra has been to snuff out fraud or anything that would resemble it, and to really make this very restrictive. So these may seem like small and superficial things, but I think, you know, if you've waited in those lines or you've been around those centers, you see really all the hurdles that are put up for people. So it really is about changing a core culture. And that's not gonna happen over night.


KENT DAVY: Yeah, [CHECK AUDIO] his reporting on this has made -- pointed out that since early in 2009, there's been a 60 percent increase in the number of people participating in food stamps here. That is a significant change already under way. So to some extent, it's already happening.

GLORIA PENNER: But let me give you the numbers that the San Diego food stamp has put out. The website says that more than 480000 people are hungry in the county and the head of county's health and human services department says that now 210000 people receive food stamps of that's only [CHECK AUDIO].

KENT DAVY: Not even that. In fact we've been in a terrible economy, we've got unemployment in the 10, 11, 12 percent, a lot of home foreclosure, a lot of reasons for a lot of hungry people. All I was putting out is the cultural change I think with the county has been under way for some period of time.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Well, let's go to deny now from Encinitas. Deny, join us at the Editors Roundtable, please.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, hi, good morning.

GLORIA PENNER: Good morning.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you so much for taking my call. I do so much enjoy your show.


NEW SPEAKER: I do recommend to a lot of my patients and even my friends who are going through these difficult times to seek out the health and human services programs that are there for this use. Unfortunately, this is a system built on denial. And you're right about the stigma with regard to people not wanting to go, feeling like they have done something wrong or failed in some way. It would be better served health and human services and these programs if you could facilitate, say, the community resource centers with even 1 or 2 individuals to do these form intakes, I think it would help, it would relieve the stigma of either going to Kearny Mesa or Oceanside. And I would see -- you would see more people would be taking advantages of these serves.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Thank you very much, Denny, you know, I personally had the experience of going to Oceanside, not for food stamps but for benefits for one of my relatives. And it was a painful experience. It truly was. Cold and not very efficient. So I have personal experience in this. All right, we're gonna take a break now, and when we come back we're gonna take more calls and talk a lot bit more about this, the food stamp issue. But also about what's coming up very soon now. Another challenge for the supervisors. This is the Editors Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.

Is this the Editors Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner, and we're talking about whether the supervisors have improved their profiles and their way of doing business and their appeal to the public since the election in November. And we kind of started off with the food stamp program. And the editors basically have said there is some improvement, but there's a way to go so far. And we've been hearing from our listeners who have had experiences of one sort or another with the benefits program from the county. So let's hear now from Majelia in El Cajon. Majelia, you're on with the editors.

NEW SPEAKER: Morning, thank you for having me, Gloria. I love your show.

GLORIA PENNER: You're welcome. Thanks.

NEW SPEAKER: I'm currently on aid, and I'm actually a student at SDSU. I support two -- I mean, I'm sorry, a single parent household of two children. And I'm constantly going through hearings. I have to -- 'cause my aid is constantly taken from me. I am constantly made -- told that I'm ineligible, and it's just constantly one hearing after the other. My next hearing is coming here in December, and they basically are taking away my food stamps saying that my household changed because I'm not a citizen. But I am an eligible resident alien. And so it's just been one after another, they find every reason they can to make you ineligible for your services.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay, thank you, Majelia. Kent.

KENT DAVY: I think her story is exactly the kind of problem this system has. And the reason is it's the supervisors fault. If you set up a system that attempts to deny services and find ways to deny people, it simply discourages them, it makes it difficult, a number of people will give up, they won't try, it encourages the stigmatization of people who need help. That's really the cultural program.

JW AUGUST: Yeah, I bet they don't give any certificates to county employees who help as many people as possible. I imagine they pat the guys on the back who catch a fraud case, one out of a hundred or something like that.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, JW, that in a statement that was recorded in Kent's newspaper, the North County Times, supervisor Roberts acknowledges, quote, we've got a ways to go, end quote. And supervisor Cox says, quote, I think we've got very good recommendations, talking about the 69 recommendations. Do either of those sound as though there's a new dedication to help the needy?

JW AUGUST: I think there is -- it indicates they're aware of the problem and that they got beat over the head, and they better do something about it.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Let's move on. We're still talking about the supervisors. And on another issue, drawing supervisors' districts every ten years after the census. Yeah, every ten years, there's a census, and then your districts are redrawn based on where the population has moved. So starting with you, JW, what are the chances the supervisors could give up the job of redistricting to independent commissions that are independent of political influence?

JW AUGUST: No, there's no chance. I think they should take a lesson from the food stamps. The people of California and prop 11, prop 20, said the commissions, independent commissions be set up to determine how these districts should be drown. Don't leave it to the politicians. That's like the chick -- the wolf guarding the hen house. And so the county recently said, we'll set -- let's look at setting up an advisory committee to tell us how we should redraw the lines. Well. Of the last time they did that, the advisory committee came back with some recommendations, and they blew them off. The supervisors blew them off, and the city of Escondido got moved from Horn's district to Slater's district. And I think it's more about the politicians elected -- they prefer to decide who votes for them, who can vote for them, not who the voters can pick for elected office. They're more concerned about controlling the situation of it's power.

GLORIA PENNER: Andrew, but on that, you know, politically wouldn't it work to the supervisors' benefit if they say, okay, we are gonna give up control of drawing our own districts. We are gonna leave it up to an independent commission and let the cards fall where they may?

ANDREW DONAHUE: I don't think so. I mean, as you said, you've been in office together since the mid90s. Very few of them, if ever, get challenged in an election. They have very little motivation to change anything. They have very great job security. And you know, frankly, the voters have handed them that. Time and again, the voters have endorsed how they've done things in the past and have decided that that's what they want in the future. So I don't see very much -- I don't see very much motivation for them to be changing anything.

GLORIA PENNER: Ten years ago, I remember what JW. Was talking about, there was a real push to try and get some minority recommendation on the board of supervisors, and there was -- and one of the them -- I mean, the advisory committee really tried to create a district that would have enough ethnically identifiable people so that maybe somebody who is ethically identifiable could be on the board of supervisors. Well, that didn't happen. And when I look at the numbers, the south bay does have a minority population of almost 64 percent, and yet Greg Cox was elected and reelected as its supervisor. So what does this tell us really, kept.

KENT DAVY: Well, it tells you that entrenched politicians with war chess and a lack of stiff competition will be reelected. The most interesting piece in the 2001 redistricting though was the little shuffle that happened between Bill Horne and Pam Slater, when there was a map put out by the advisory commission, there was a private meeting, and Bill Horne came out, had nudged Pam Slater aside, and taken the area of Rancho Santa Fe from the third district and pushed people from the 5th district, Escondido, into Slater's. So if you look at the gerrymandered map, you've got this thumb that runs up into Escondido and Escondido alone surrounded by bill's 5th district. That was about money though. If you --

GLORIA PENNER: Was it money or was it votes.

KENT DAVY: I think it's about money. It's about where do I find people with money who can support me and my campaigns? I think that's why Bill Horne wanted Rancho Santa Fe. And I think that's why Pam Slater price didn't want Escondido.

JW AUGUST: But they think they should pay attention to the will of the people. Because these propositions have passed am even Arnold Schwarzenegger his only legacy, our very unpopular governor, was the fact that he recognized allowing the political entities to decide the shapes of these districts is one reason we're having the problems we're having in this state. I think it's one of the primary reasons.

GLORIA PENNER: But of course in the state, we're gonna change all that because we now have a redistricting commission that's almost totally appointed, about eight of them, of the 14 have been appointed so far. Okay. Let us move on, we're gonna stay with politics enforce a while, but we're gonna move from the county to the city.

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