Friday, May 14, 2010
GLORIA PENNER (Host): The County of San Diego has been widely criticized for its low food stamp participation rate. Many more people in San Diego are eligible for food stamps than receive them. In an effort to increase local enrollment in the food stamp program, the San Diego Food Bank is forming a partnership with five local elementary schools. Education reporter Ana Tintocalis joins us to explain how the program works. How many – well, we know how many schools there are in the partnership. Why were those five schools chosen to participate in the program?
ANA TINTOCALIS (Education Reporter): So these five schools are located in the lowest of incomes in terms of the city. It’s an area that is very poor. These five schools, they’re normally kind of clustered in the area south of Interstate 8, kind of outside downtown San Diego. And so they serve a high number of immigrants, students from immigrant families. A lot of parents are Spanish-speaking parents. And again just low-income families that a lot of their students qualify for free and reduced lunches at school. Which means there’s a high poverty level in those schools.
PENNER: So that’s why they were targeted, how does the program work?
TINTOCALIS: So, it’s quite interesting, and it kind of makes you think, why this wasn’t done before? Basically, food stamp volunteers come on campus, they set up these makeshift tents and they screen applicants there on the site. And there’s kind of two tents, one tent asks parents questions to see if they qualify, and if they do they are then moved to another tent, and they begin the enrollment process and they are sent home with a packet of information. And there’s the volunteers who speak Spanish, really, walk them through the process. This is huge for parents because one of the big barriers is the application is just very confusing, it’s complicated. To have people walk you through the process is huge. And also to have people that speak your language. But more important than that, it’s the comfort that parents have when they’re at school.
PENNER: Well, apparently the problem is really big as we alluded to in the introduction. How big is it?
TINTOCALIS: It’s a huge problem and coming from an education point of view, I didn’t realize the massive hunger problem there is in San Diego County. So I talked to Mitch Mitchell, he’s the chairman of the San Diego Food Bank, and this is what he had to say about the underutilization of the food stamp program.
MITCH MITCHELL (Chairman, San Diego Food Bank): There are 483,000 people living at or below poverty in San Diego County, and about 175,000 are receiving food stamp benefits. So, there's a huge gap that exists. You look at other cities in the country, their penetration rate, participation rate is much higher. And so, finding a way to improve and close that gap is very important to us. Again, we don't want anybody to go to bed hungry at night, but in particular children.
PENNER: Well, it sure looked as though there are a lot of people there. What kind of a turnout did they get at the event at, it was Rodriguez Elementary School?
TINTOCALIS: Rodriguez Elementary School, and it is located in Ocean View, and I’d say more than 70, 80 percent of the students there come from Latino families. So everyone, all the mothers that were there were from Spanish-speaking families. I’d say there were about 50 mothers and some fathers there. Women with baby strollers and there was an option to pick up some free food on the way. So, and this is not just a one time thing. This will be happening on a constant basis, and so this was just one day out of what will be many days in a school year.
PENNER: Were the families enrolling in the food stamp program? Did you see that happening?
TINTOCALIS: That was happening and you know they left with smiles on their faces. You could tell there was a sense of hope. There are so many families now that are struggling within the school district, that to be able to get through this process, which for them if they did this at the county office, it’s miles away, it takes time out of their schedule. They have to find transportation. To simply walk to their neighborhood school was huge.
PENNER: So what motivated the city and the school district to create this partnership with the local food bank?
TINTOCALIS: Well, I was told by one of the school officials there, was that they realized this underutilization of the food stamp program long before the county started stepping up its efforts, and they figured out this arrangement. "Well, let's get to the source, let's go to parents at the school sites." Which is what they did. And school board president Richard Barrera said, it’s a no brainer, again it’s convenient, parents are comfortable with reaching out for help in a school setting. And this is what he had to say about schools being a good environment.
RICHARD BARRERA (San Diego Unified School District): So, what we looked at are some of the issues as to why some families are not enrolling in the food stamps program, and a big reason is because the county requires families to take a day or more off of work to go down to a county eligibility office, and that's a daunting process for a lot of families, and so we said look, at the schools a lot of families are already comfortable, they're here already – either dropping off in the morning, or picking up in the afternoon, or volunteering during the day – so let's take an environment where our families are already comfortable, with people they are already comfortable with, and let's take the enrollment process right here, to our schools.
PENNER: Well you know, that’s a good beginning. Let’s talk about some other education news that you’ve been covering. Ana you reported earlier this week that the San Diego Unified School District is the first large urban school district in California to publicly boycott the state of Arizona in response to the state's very controversial illegal immigration law. So what kind of boycott, what’s going to happen?
TINTOCALIS: So the boycott is in the form of a travel ban. And you’re right, San Diego Unified is the first to go out there as a public school district and say, 'We are restricting district-related travel to the state of Arizona and we do not want to participate in any conferences in Arizona.' And we’ve heard other governmental agencies, you know, take on this kind of a boycott. But it was really significant for a public school district to do so because a lot of people question, 'What does a public school district and a school board have to say on these large immigration issues?' And so, it was an interesting debate on, you know a school board inserting itself in a national issue, but saying, 'It’s because we want to protect all our students, and send the message out that we want to protect our students, and we are not going to point the finger,' and also just a protest against the policy.
PENNER: So they actually said, we protest the policy, as well as saying, we discourage travel.
TINTOCALIS: Yeah, they publicly condemned the policy, and now I hear the Los Angeles Unified District might follow suit. San Diego might be definitely blazing that trail. But again, there was, it was an interesting conversation at the school board meeting when they did pass the policy, because there were some people saying that the school board needs to just focus on district business. 'You need to get down to the education and budget cuts, things that are taking place here in California. Why are you worrying about Arizona?'
PENNER: Well, you can understand that simply because there are so many concerns about the reduction in funds for the school district, and wanting to keep the programs going with them. So I can understand that.
TINTOCALIS: Sure, but one of the things is that a lot of the students in the school district, there’s a high number of racial minority students in the district, and I think about 44 percent of them are Latinos with ties to the Southwest. So there is a serious concern that some of these students will kind of move into Arizona, either by force or just by traveling, and so there is a concern there.
PENNER: And just briefly Ana, we’re hearing word that the Chula Vista Elementary School District has sent out layoff notices to teachers?
TINTOCALIS: Yeah, about 160 layoff notices, and that’s probably the largest amount for an elementary school district, and I think they might be rescinded based on contract negotiations with the union, but still significant. Chula Vista is one of the, is the largest elementary school district in California.
PENNER: Thank you very much. Ana Tintocalis.
TINTOCALIS: Thank you.