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Food Stamps Not Reaching San Diegans Who Need Them

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Only one in three people in San Diego County who qualify for food stamps actually receives them. The county has the lowest participation rate in the country, according to a report by a non-profit group in Washington, D.C. The Food Research and Action Center looked at food stamp participation in 24 urban centers in the country.  Joanne Faryon has more (story continues below). 

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Only one in three people in San Diego County who qualify for food stamps actually receives them. The county has the lowest participation rate in the country, according to a report by a non-profit group in Washington, D.C. The Food Research and Action Center looked at food stamp participation in 24 urban centers in the country. Joanne Faryon has more (story continues below).

There are about 30 people waiting to hear their names called at a county office in Kearny Mesa. They’re here to get food stamps, although, these days it’s really a debit card that can be used at most large grocery stores.

Some are single mothers, many new immigrants, some just down on their luck.

 “I lost my job and I don’t get my child support.”

But some might consider these people the lucky ones – they found their way here and many will leave able to buy groceries.

It’s the people who aren’t at this office who tell the real story. More than 200,000 who live below the federal poverty line and are eligible to receive food stamps. They are the poorest of the poor. To qualify, a family of four would have to earn less than about 21,000 a year, and could receive $540 a month in food stamps.

Chris Carter is with the San Diego Food Bank. He says the county is losing $144 million in food benefits – that’s how much more food could be bought in the community if everyone eligible applied. It’s money the federal government has already ear-marked for the program – money the county is passing up.

Hand: And that money is really essential for the folks who are struggling to get by.

Donna Hand is the county’s deputy director for health and human services in the north region. She says the county did a survey to find out why people aren’t signing up for the benefits. Some are intimidated by the process and many aren’t aware of the program.

And Hand also told KPBS the county didn’t receive enough money to administer the program. In fact, she seemed unaware of who actually paid to administer the food stamp program.

Hand: We do not receive funding for the cost of doing business. We receive funding for the benefits the folks are entitled to, so that what we have to supplement in order to get the job done.

It’s true the federal government pays 100 percent of all food stamp benefits. In other words they pay for all the food. But they also pay to get the job done. According to the California Department of Social Services, the federal and state governments together pay 85 percent of the administration cost – that’s the paperwork – it also pays for outreach so people in the community know about the program.

Last year, the county of San Diego received a total of $28 million from the federal and state governments to administer the program and do outreach – the county’s share of the cost was about $4 million.

The county has signed up 15 percent more this year than last.

Donna Hand says she’s not sure if it’s because more people are in need or because her office is doing a better job of reaching people:

The Food Bank says many of the people eligible often end up in their line. In fact, the food bank, a community-based group, has decided to hire its own food stamp outreach employee- even though it’s not their responsibility.

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