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San Diego County Works To Improve Food Program For Poor

Audio

Aired 3/15/11

San Diego County Supervisors will listen to recommendations from the community on how to improve the food stamp program, now known as Cal Fresh. The board is working to change its reputation as the county with the lowest food stamp participation rate in the nation.

San Diego County Supervisors will listen to recommendations from the community on how to improve the food stamp program, now known as Cal Fresh. The board is working to change its reputation as the county with the lowest food stamp participation rate in the nation.

The county says it has increased enrollment in Cal Fresh by 70 percent, and that 90 percent of people who apply for food aid get it within 30 days. Advocates for those applying say more than half of all applications are still pending, and there are still thousands of people who qualify but aren’t getting the help.

John Lucero Criswell of the Hunger Coalition said there have been improvements. For example he said, previously, applicants were denied if they had any assets or savings at all.

“It had the adverse effect of forcing people to not apply for Cal Fresh benefits until they were really destitute and had to get rid of their car and spend all their savings,” he said. “So at that point it becomes a harder slog to get back on their feet.”

Now, Criswell said, people are not disqualified for having savings. This change used to apply only to families with children but Criswll said that has been extended to single adults.

Bill Oswald of the Caring Council said he’s been fighting the county for ten years to make the program more efficient. He said he sees progress, but he objects to the staff training.

“We were really upset that the county would use a training that does nothing more than reinforce the negative stereotypes of people in poverty,” he said. “We will be raising the issue that we want them to find another training.”

Both Oswald and Criswell say the population that needs food aid is growing, while the county's staff is not, because of tight budgets.

The supervisors will also vote on a change to allow seniors, the homeless and disabled to use Cal Fresh in certain restaurants. For this group, cooking is a challenge and they may not have a kitchen. Advocates say some of the restaurants that have signed up to join the program offer highly processed fast food. They hope restaurants with healthy choices will decide to sign up.