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Roundtable: Troubles For Pension Reform, Food Stamps, Homeless Students

Evening Edition

Dave Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat, speaks with "Evening Edition" about problems with the county's food stamp program.

Aired 2/17/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guests: Katie Orr, KPBS News metro reporter

David Rolland, editor, San Diego CityBeat

Kyla Calvert, KPBS News education reporter


San Diego County has long ranked at the bottom nationally in the percentage of eligible people who are actually enrolled in a food stamp program.

In 2003, the county was dead last of 22 metropolitan areas with just 26 percent of those eligible receiving food aid.

A new county phone hotline was supposed to make participation easier, but it drops five of every six calls.

This week, San Diego CityBeat’s cover story focused on the “seemingly unending problems with San Diego County’s food stamps program.”

Dave Rolland, editor of CityBeat, spoke with KPBS Television’s “Evening Edition” about the story, which was written by the paper’s associate editor, Kelly Davis.

“We’ve known for about eight years that San Diego County has really just been hideously bad at enrollment rates,” Rolland said. “We’re not talking just bad, I mean, bottom of the barrel bad.”

Rolland said the county has worked to improve its enrollment since then, and has made some progress in boosting enrollment rates.

In 2009—the most recent data available—the county’s enrollment rate was about 40 percent, an improvement from the 26 percent in 2003, but still less than most major metropolitan areas.

“Really at this point (the county) is just trying to catch up with the recession and the recession’s effect on people in need,” Rolland said. “It still has a long way to go to catch up to areas in terms of enrolling people who need help.”

Although county health officials commissioned a report on the food stamp program last year, Davis’ story says food stamp advocates have been telling the county about problems with the program for much longer.

“They have been telling the county about these problems for years, that they didn’t really need this consulting firm to come and lay out these problems because they’ve known about them for a long time,” Rolland said.

Part of the problem, Rolland said, is that the county’s method for detecting fraud in its food stamp program might be too stringent.

Davis’ story cites advocates working with food stamp applicants who said the county stops or denies benefits at a rate that “has consistently been one of the highest in the state.”

“Last year, roughly one of every five requests for new or renewed benefits was denied in error, according to data maintained by the state,” Davis writes.

Rolland said the county supervisors are overly worried about fraud, which means they deny applicants when they shouldn’t.

“They’re worried about fraud and we know fraud is really a minor problem,” Rolland said. “I believe, and I think a lot of the advocates believe, that the response to the fraud danger has been disproportionate to what that danger was in the first place.”

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Avatar for user 'johnnym'

johnnym | February 17, 2012 at 2:58 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

This makes for a nice story for "food stamp advocates" but don't forget not everyone is a food stamp advocate. When aid is supplied by government programs, citizens are required to pay for it whether they want to or not. It might be better if this were handled by the Church instead of the government.

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Avatar for user 'lifeslittlefolly'

lifeslittlefolly | February 17, 2012 at 6:15 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Poverty is not a sin.
Hunger is not a sin.
Get thee to a church!?

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Avatar for user 'taxed'

taxed | February 18, 2012 at 7:50 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Food Stamps - the new unearned currency. Will anybody ever advocate for the taxpayers?

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Avatar for user 'perche'

perche | February 18, 2012 at 9:20 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

While listening to the pension portion of this program, I was struck by the lack of verbal skill on the part of your participants. The use of "you know", "um/uh", "basically", "maybe", "I think", as well as the women ending sentences on an up/questioning note was excessive, distracting, and gave the sense to the listener that the subject was not well known and that there was a lack of confidence on the part of the speaker. While I appreciate your efforts in airing this program in general, the tone on this occasion came off like a college professor facilitating a freshman class discussion. After the 15th "you know" I tuned out.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 18, 2012 at 2:56 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes, johnnym, let's leave it up to the "churches."

If we do that, the poor will really be cast aside to rot.

Look at the enormous amounts of money churches spend, and then look how little they actually help the poor with.

The Catholic and Mormon church bosses funneled millions into Prop 8.

The Catholic church bosses have spend millions if not billions on criminal defense attorneys for their molesting priests.

The Mormon Cult even spent **billions** on a **MALL** in Salt Lake City.

Look how many times an evangelical cult leader has been in hot water for being on the take and raking in millions that they squander.

Today's churches aren't about helping the needy, not at all. They are about playing politics and scamming people.

We need something far more reliable than leaving it up to these parasites.

And if you and "taxed" are so concerned about the tax payers, why aren't you upset with the churches that are allowed to play politics and operate as businesses yet get away without paying taxes.


So there, we covered your little church idea.

Now on to your "food stamp advocate" remark.

It's not about free handouts, it's about this little thing we live in called a **SOCIETY**.

You may have heard of it dear, it's the 300 million of us who make up the United States of America.

When we help people in need get through rough periods, we do so not because it only helps the individuals receiving aid, it helps our country as a whole.

It's pretty hard for someone to go out and find a job and actually pull themselves out of poverty when they are not nourished.

You may not like your tax dollars going to help America's poor, but I didn't like my tax dollars going to fund an unnecessary war in Iraq and to help build Iraqi infrastructure, but hey - nobody ran it past me. I guess that's one of the compromises that comes with living in that society thing I was referring to, not everyone is going to agree with everything in the way of public spending.

Shame on you for hating on the poor.

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Avatar for user 'Sillysoft'

Sillysoft | February 18, 2012 at 3:54 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

So their saying there isnt enough people enrolling for food stamps?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 18, 2012 at 5:16 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Sillysoft, you posted a website with links to where people can get their food stamp balance and imply this proves something.

What, exactly?

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | February 20, 2012 at 10:38 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Perche: Unfortunately, I didn't see your comment until this morning (Monday). You were so turned off by the occasional "um" and "maybe" you couldn't listen to or absorb the content of the Roundtable. That's too bad, since all three participants knew their subjects very well indeed, and in my book, were quite good at explaining the issues.

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Avatar for user 'sdartnut'

sdartnut | February 20, 2012 at 10:07 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

If one actually calls the Food Stamp phone line 1-866-262-9881 and punches your way through the prompts you get a looped recording that says (without pause) "please wait while we transfer your call please wait while we transfer your cal l please wait while we transfer your call please wait while we transfer your call please wait while we transfer your call please wait while we transfer your call" repeatedly. An obvious mistake was made in setting up the answering system. It is no doubt that applicants hang up.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | February 21, 2012 at 12:19 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

It seems odd to me that we view low enrollment in a costly program as a problem. With our current budget it should be viewed as an advantage.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 21, 2012 at 7:09 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Benz, it's a problem because there are people in our county in need who are unable to get help they qualify for.

That defies the reason we have the program in the first place.

If you are opposed to food stamps that is one thing, but the program exists and is designed to help residents.

If the county supervisors are ideologically opposed to food stamps they can vote for like-minded people or lobby to have the laws changed, but as elected officials they are bound by **existing** law and that law requires them to deliver these services.

They are not doing their jobs and thy are playing politics with food benefits for people in poverty, it's a shameful and cowardly political web these hacks are Weaving.

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Avatar for user 'perch777'

perch777 | February 22, 2012 at 1:52 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

In response to Pat Finn,
My comment related to lack of verbal skill (this is radio!) that resulted in the impression that the participants were not confident in their grasp of the subject. After reading your comment, I played back the segment and counted no less than 15 "You Knows" as well as hearing a comment by Dave Rolland in which he commented on the food stamp issues being discussed and then had to back peddle as he stated that he was not sufficiently informed to support the comment he had just made. All of this may seem inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, but I have noticed a decline in professionalism in recent years with a dumbing down of performance standards in many aspects of the media. It is unfortunate that you prefer to defend sub-standard work rather than take seriously a listener comment that might inspire a second look to make your programming aspire to a higher standard.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 22, 2012 at 2:58 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Perch777, I do agree with ou about the "dumbing down" of the media, but I'm surprised you are attacking KPBS.

I'm not saying your concerns are not valid, I didn't notice it but if you counted the words I can't argue that point, but looking at the bigger picture KPBS seems far better than the local alternatives.

I like the way KPBS has round table discussions and really tries to dig deeper into issues than the fluff talking points you see on local news stations like *KUSI: News for the Small Minded*, a catch phrase I invented for this tabloid-like journalistic disaster that features biased, cherry picked sensationalism with the cherry on top being a non-scientist national global warming denier old crank weatherman who dances and twirls around with his raspy voice shouting, KUSIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII.

I'm not saying KPBS is perfect, nobody is, but I have been letting to them for years and they are pretty solid with many seasoned journalist. Alison St. John has been reporting on local issues for as long as I can remember and does very thorough, balanced, professional reporting. I've been recently impressed with how Beth Accomando has brought her experience with cinema (read her bio) and has really entrenched herself in the local arts community of offbeat films I had no idea even existed and presents in-depth *local* entertainment that I don't see ay where else.

Again, I'm not arguing your point, I am just saying hat overall I think KPBS does a good job, especially when compared to other options, so I wouldn't let a few "you knows" ruin it for you.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 22, 2012 at 3:01 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

And before you attack my spelling errors, oi have a temperamental iPad that autocorrects in strange ways ;)

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | February 24, 2012 at 7:23 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

I absolutely agree that existing law must be abided by. I do not see where in this article it is not though. There is a higher than expected rejection error rate mentioned, but that is not a violation of law as far as I can tell. Administrative errors in my experience stem primarily from one of three sources; poor submission paperwork, poor staff training or overly heavy workload.
In the first case, that is hardly attributable to the county supervisors. Poor training is certainly their responsibility but I find it a stretch to consider it intentional, much less illegal. As to the workload, most bureaucratic institutions have fat and lean periods where workload is higher or lower than normal. Postmen are very busy at the holidays, accountants don’t get much sleep in March and April and, apparently food stamp regulators may have a superabundance of applications to process during a recession.
I understand frustration with slow government administrative systems, but I don’t see this as more surprising than slow lines at the DMV.

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Avatar for user 'nikkineel'

nikkineel | March 8, 2012 at 10:06 p.m. ― 5 years ago

Its a shame to hear so many people diss a really good program. $200 a month is nothing in the big picture and the money generates income and jobs unlike other govt black holes. You should be focusing on "affordable housing" and "homeless shelters" and the enormity of the fraud in that area. We are spending about $300,000 per person for affordable housing or homeless shelters. No one seems to question why the cost is SO much higher than in the private market. Its higher because politicians organize these projects as Delaware corps....ever wonder why SD organizes all its projects as companies in Delaware? Because its a legal means of money laundering and bribery. Your politicians are "investors" in these publicly funded projects ESPECIALLY Toni Atkins. food stamps are a drop in the bucket and should not be focused on.

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Avatar for user 'nikkineel'

nikkineel | March 8, 2012 at 10:11 p.m. ― 5 years ago

Anyone curious why a homeless shelter downtown for 200 people cost taxpayers 70 million dollars? This is where the fraud is and publications like CityBeat aren't gonna tell you about it because they are players in the game. We neet the CA attorney general to intervene.

A multi billion dollar property NTC was given away to McMillin for $1 per year and is organized in multiple delaware LLcs, 1 offshore. Thats billions of dollars that belongs to the citizens and you are concerned about food stamps?

ADI an affordable housing developer in LA and some stuff here was caught not being able to account for half a billion dollars in tax money. Much of it was found in an offshore bank account in India and NO energy is being spent looking into this. The only reason it came out was because of a divorce proceeding.

In short there are much bigger fish to fry KPBS but what else would we expect from this sham organization.

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Avatar for user 'nikkineel'

nikkineel | March 8, 2012 at 10:17 p.m. ― 5 years ago

here is a piece on the big business of poverty and Im not talking food stamps. food stamps are brilliant because the money and power goes DIRECTLY to the poor. it isnt given to a private company and political donor to "solve" the problem. We need more $ for food stamps and less for ridiculous housing programs especially because we have such a glut right now Congress is gonna pass a bill to allow foreign interests to buy up our real estate but your politicians like Toni atkins want to spend billions more BUILDING more housing.

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