Friday, February 17, 2012
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.”