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Food Stamp Benefits Hard To Access For Many

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ROLAND LIZARONDO

A line of grocery carts are shown parked in front of a San Diego Target store Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

To receive food stamp benefits in California, eligible recipients must recertify every six months. A new study from UC Berkeley finds that complicated processes often drive people out of the program. Meanwhile, as more migrant teenage girls arrive at the San Diego convention center, local social service agencies and educators are stepping up to help them. Plus, a new analysis from the San Diego Union Tribune shows biased policing practices in San Diego have been consistent for years.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Tuesday March 30th.

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What’s holding up the process for receiving Calfresh benefits...

More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

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San Diego County officials say about 20 percent of San Diegans 16 and older, are now fully immunized against COVID-19. Meanwhile, vaccine supplies continue to fluctuate, and the Scripps vaccination superstation at the Del Mar Fairgrounds will shut down for tomorrow because of a shortage. Still Dr Ghazala Sharieff, the Chief Medical Officer-Acute Division of Scripps Health, says she’s optimistic.

NEWSITES 2A
“We are very hopeful. We think that if we get the vaccines that are promised from what I’m hearing through our routes of communication, we should almost get double of what we’re currently receiving as a state by the middle of April. If that’s the case we can really start running with the vaccination program.”

COVID-19 vaccines will be made available to people 50 and older beginning Thursday. And then to everyone age 16 starting April 15. And The county will soon open three new vaccination sites -- in southeast San Diego, Escondido and Sherman Heights.

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Nearly 40 of the more than 500 teenage girls who arrived at the San Diego convention center over the weekend have tested positive for covid-19. None of the cases are serious according to Health and Human Services, but all of the girls are symptomatic at this time. The girls who tested positive are being sheltered away from the rest of the children. About 250 more unaccompanied migrant children were scheduled to fly into San Diego Monday, for a total of 750 youths, according to the City News Service. The girls are being transferred from a border facility in Texas.

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Santa Ana Winds will sweep through San Diego today, bringing warm temperatures. The warm weather will continue through the week before cooling down by the weekend.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Thousands of people across the county get CalFresh, commonly known as food stamps, to help them buy food. But KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser says the program regularly pushes out people who are still eligible for the extra money.

“Fish, well… salmon, which is at times very expensive.”
Maria Gonzalez de Ochoa stands outside her El Cajon apartment and talks about what she likes to buy with her CalFresh food stamps.
“Salmon. Fresh chicken, the “green” (organic) kind. We like the good stuff when it’s available.”
The 74-year-old housecleaner finally got on the program in 2019.
“It took them a while to reply but, blessed be God, they did accept me.”
Within a matter of months, her elation had turned to disappointment. Gonzalez de Ochoa was told her benefits had stopped because a report was missing. However, she says that’s not right.
“I called and asked them if they had received it and they said ‘yes,’ but...16;37;01;05 towards the end of December, I called them and they said that it had been suspended due to that paper.”
Right now under the CalFresh Program, which distributes food stamps paid for by the federal government, an individual will receive $234 a month--a temporary increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this money comes with a number of strings attached. Every six months, recipients have to provide written proof of any and all changes to their employment status, family size and living arrangements.
They also have to submit to an interview, either in-person or on the phone. If any of these steps are missed, the money stops.
“Households are six times more likely to fall out of the program in times when they have to meet these requirements.”
Matt Unrath, a research fellow at UC Berkeley’s California Policy Lab, says the complicated process regularly drives out CalFresh recipients who are still eligible for the program.
In San Diego County and across the state, between half and three quarters of the recipients who left the program were still eligible for the benefits, according to the study.
“We think this has to do with under staffing and a lack of training.”
Anahid Brakke is CEO of the San Diego Hunger Coalition, a nonprofit that helps people apply for CalFresh. She says there needs to be more county funding for case workers and call center operators who help people get their benefits.
“We will see whether it’s been just a lack of funding that contributed to that or not now that we have more political will to make these things happen. What we’re seeing is a little too much comfort with how much people suffer trying to go through the process”
San Diego County is doing what it can to help recipients, says Rick Wanne, the county’s director for self sufficiency programs for San Diego County.
“We the county send a notification by mail, with instructions on how to complete it, where to send it, with an envelope with free return, and we send a reminder text message with a link to complete the form online, if the customer wants to do it electronically.”
But, he says, some people stop their benefits while they’re still eligible because of, quote, “individual choice.”
There have been some temporary changes to the program during COVID-19: for six months, no forms were required, and the interview requirement has been suspended, but will likely return in July. Also next year, households with only elderly or disabled individuals who have no earned income will not have to submit forms.
But Unrath, the co-author of the Berkeley study, wants more. He says all recipients should only file paperwork once a year.
“It would be cheaper for the government, because it wouldn’t have to administer benefits as frequently, and that type of reform would benefit a bunch of households rather than allowing just a few ineligible people to stay enrolled.”
But that would take an act of Congress.

And that was KPBS Investigative reporter Claire Traegeser.

The San Diego Convention Center has become a temporary home for hundreds of young migrant girls who crossed the southwest border seeking asylum. Multiple San Diego County organizations have teamed up to provide an education to these teenagers during their stay.

KPBS Education Reporter Joe Hong has more.

Close to 700 teenage girls from various countries in Latin America are being provided temporary shelter at the convention center as of Monday night. The migrant children, who are between 13 and 17 years old, will be provided with an education in English and the arts for the duration of their stay, which will last through July.
Roberto Carrillo is a principal at the San Diego County Office of Education’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools.
Definitely supports in English, acquisition of English. Definitely want to introducing them to the arts. The visual arts and the performing arts. And also give them the opportunity to start expressing themselves through written formats, giving them a basic understanding of the English language.
Carrillo says about 13 teachers from districts all over San Diego have volunteered to work with the migrant students.
Just writing, poetry, that’s all focused on just giving them the opportunity to have that outlet. I don’t know their individual stories but I can imagine it can be a lot of difficulties.. They’ve experienced many difficulties for the reasons why they’re here.
Instruction will start as soon as Tuesday, once the youth have all arrived and settled in.
Young people just got here and they’re still arriving from what I understand, so it gives us an opportunity to put everything together. So when we’re ready to go, we hit the ground running and provide the best possible program that we can for them.
Carrillo says community members who want to support these educational efforts should contact South Bay Community Services or the San Diego County Office of Education.

And that was KPBS Education reporter Joe Hong.

Bay Area Assemblymember Rob Bonta, a Filipino American, was named California’s new Attorney General last week. As CapRadio’s Sarah Mizes-Tan reports, many see Bonta as a bridge between the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and law enforcement.

Bonta is the state’s first Filipino-American Attorney General.
As a result, many in the Sacramento AAPI leaders hope his appointment can change the way law enforcement handles hate incidents against people in the community.
Janice O’Malley Galizio is with the Sacramento OCA, an AAPI advocacy group. She says her organization has hopes that Bonta can improve trust between the community and law enforcement.
GALIZIO: You know when you look at what happened in Atlanta and the fact that it’s not going to be considered a hate crime, it makes people second guess whether it makes sense to report any hate crimes or incidents.
Aarti Kohli of the Asian Law Caucus says she’s optimistic because Bonta has a track record of protecting civil rights and standing up for the AAPI community.
KOHLI: I believe Attorney General Bonta recognizes the need for accountability, and I believe he will be putting resources to make sure there is accountability that recognizes racial hatred.
Bonta said last week when accepting Governor Gavin Newsom’s appointment that he would use his position as Attorney General to help curb the rise in AAPI hate incidents, and prosecute those responsible.

And that was Cap Radio’s Sarah Mizes-Tan.

Coming up.... A new analysis of police stops in San Diego shows consistent bias in police practices. We’ll have more on that next, just after the break.

The data has been consistent for years. Study after study has revealed police and sheriff’s Deputies disproportionately target minorities for stops, searches, arrests and use of force.
A new analysis by the San Diego Union Tribune examined nearly half a million stops by San Diego police officers and sheriff deputies between July of 2018 and December of 2020.
Lindsay Winkley is a Watchdog reporter with the San Diego Union Tribune. She spoke with KPBS Midday Edition Host Jade Hindmon about the study.

And that was Lindsay Winkley, watchdog reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune, speaking with KPBS Midday Edition Host Jade Hindmon.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.