Reader Rant: Another View of San Diego County’s Food Stamp Scandal

by on January 22, 2010 · 17 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Reader Rant, San Diego

shopping

Editor: This Reader Rant is in response to the complaints posted by a San Diego County food stamp worker.

by Nancy

As a former government worker myself, I can understand the food stamp worker’s lament to not be blamed for the program regulations she/he has to deal and the stress she/he deals with having heavy caseloads and not enough workers, BUT it sure sounds like there is an attitude problem also, as many have already mentioned.

The worker blames federal regulations but doesn’t seem to be aware that California, and San Diego County in particular, goes far beyond what the federal regulations require to PROCESS the applications, and someone has already mentioned that maybe the fact that our County Board of Supervisors is made up of all Republicans has something to do with that.

There was a December article in the Union-Tribune that brought out what our county does that only a couple other states require, plus other reports that I’ll refer to that indicate that our county is definitely putting our local food stamp applicants “through the wringer” and shortchanging and denying those that do legitimately qualify. We all know that we live in a tourist town, which means that there are many retail and service jobs that pay little money, and that it can be hard to pay bills in our expensive city. That’s partly why programs like food stamps came into play.

No one should be made to feel like a criminal for applying, or should it be assumed that they’ll buy something with them that this worker thinks they will, or that they’ll shop where groceries are more expensive. Couldn’t it be that maybe the applicant doesn’t have a car so can’t get to a less expensive grocery store, or that lugging a few bags of groceries on a bus to feed a family of 4, let’s say, might just be too hard to deal with?

The worker said “I watch them (the applicants) all the time.” when shopping. Does he/she shop at the non-grocery stores and does he/she follow them?

The facts are :

1) Our county gets the money from the federal government for all the money paid to those eligible and partially pays, along with the state, for the county workers’ salaries, and yet San Diego County spends 34% of the Food Stamps money it receives from the state on anti-fraud programs, while other counties spend an average of 13% of their resources.

2) San Diego County is the ONLY county in the U.S. to require that all applicants have unannounced home visits by a District Attorney investigator, despite this having benefits or benefits reduced in only 1.3% of the cases. Think of the cost the investigators get paid.

3) California is one of only 3 states that require fingerprints for those eligible, and this costs $11.4 million a year while state auditors have revealed that there is no evidence that fingerprinting reduces fraud. The county can ask the state for a waiver to this rule.

4) $1.00 of Food Stamps generates $1.84 in economic activity ; $1.00 of FS generates up to $.47 spent in a grocery store; $1.00 of FS generates $2.25 in local taxes.

5) 2 million households (about 6 million people) in California go to bed hungry each night which is about 1 million, mostly children, in San Diego County in these current times.

6) San Diego County can hire more workers to ease the burden of the current workers, but they choose not to.

These are just of few things that this worker should be aware of, and they can be verified by looking at http://www.caringcouncilsd.org

I’d not like to be in a FS applicant’s position with this worker as his/her attitude would probably show.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar lane tobias January 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm

THANK YOU.

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avatar lane tobias January 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm

THANK YOU. The 100 million dollars that goes unclaimed every year would be a big benefit to this county in the recession….and the people who go hungry for no reason except that the delivery system (i.e. the pervasive culture of county eligibility workers) is flawed would certainly welcome an overhaul. What a wacky county we live in……

Coincidentally, I was interviewed today by a SD Insider reporter on this very subject. The story will probably air on Wednesday of next week. It is likely the story will also include an interview with a high ranking HHSA official. More info to come.

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avatar Frank Gormlie January 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Lane, very cool. Let us know more definitely.

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avatar lane tobias January 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I also want to add that the most horrifying piece of all this is that the lack of effort on the part of the county equates to the most blatant class discrimination I’ve ever seen. Mind you I’ve only been alive for 26 years – but I’ve never heard of literally tens of thousands of people being forced to eat scraps because a handful of powerful people and their underlings decided not to lift a finger to make it easier for them to get a federally funded subsidy.

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avatar lane tobias January 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

well, at least not in a democracy.

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avatar bodysurferbob January 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm

“San Diego County is the ONLY county in the U.S. to require that all applicants have unannounced home visits by a District Attorney investigator” – this is shocking and unbelievable – i’m ashamed to be a resident of this godforsaken county! this is so bad that this is reason enough to get rid of ALL the county supervisors.

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avatar PSD January 22, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Excellent piece, thanks!

I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but any chance you could expand on fact #4, particularly the part about how every $1.00 given out in food stamps generates $2.25 in local taxes? If this is the case, I can’t imagine how even the dumbest administrator would be trying to reduce the flow of dollars to applicants through wasteful measures like fingerprinting and unannounced visits, given that they’re getting better than a 100% return on the money…

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avatar Peyton Farquhar January 22, 2010 at 10:48 pm

@PSD

Intelligence or lack thereof has zip to do with return on money from food stamps. It’s all about spite. Besides, when have you ever known any level of government to worry about returns? It’s not their money getting pissed away. It’s taxpayer money and no one in a position of political power cares anything about that. They don’t have to.

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avatar lane tobias January 23, 2010 at 11:33 am

the return is simple – each county has money earmarked by the USDA each year based on (I think) Census figures and estimated eligible participants. the FRAC (Food Research Action Center) based in D.C. is the foremost group in regard to SNAP participation and unclaimed benefits. The 2009 report (September) which reflects 2007 numbers, claims that over 100 million dollars went unclaimed in San Diego County. The reason it stimulates the economy on a higher than 1:1 ratio is because EBT cards are accepted at pretty much every supermarket, many restaurants, and most businesses that sell food products – so 1.00 of EBT spent in, say, a Trader Joes doesn’t just give the store 1.00, it contributes as well to the employee wage pool.

Check out the FRAC website for the chart comparison:

http://frac.org/pdf/urbanfoodstamps09.pdf

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avatar PSD January 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Excellent, thanks Lane! I wasn’t aware the program was fully funded by the federal government, and that they even covered part of the administration costs – is any of that money sent to local offices for their costs, or is their part of the administrative funding strictly related to the costs of getting the money out of Washington?

In any case, the local stimulus now makes total sense, if all the money is coming in from out of town and, to an extent depending on where it’s spent, a portion of it stays here.

I also was not aware restaurants accepted food stamps…and I’m amazed someone in the conservative movement hasn’t picked up on that and used it as a cornerstone of some anti-poor tirade.

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avatar annagrace January 23, 2010 at 9:45 am

It doesn’t sound as though the homeless qualify for food stamps. If that is the case, it is a shocking revelation. Have other municipalities included homeless in their food stamp distribution programs?

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avatar lane tobias January 23, 2010 at 11:27 am

homeless folks do qualify for food stamps, and in the past have been able to get “emergency” benefits – meaning the EBT card was active within 3 days. My experience has been that nobody is getting the emergency benefits at this point, because of how backed up the HHSA offices are…but homeless individuals and families, particularly those that qualify for TANF Cash Aid, are supposed to get emergency food stamps.

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avatar PSD January 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm

How do you send an investigator out unannounced to check up on a homeless person?

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avatar Frank Gormlie January 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Just have them go to the downtown library, and start from there.

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avatar lane tobias January 23, 2010 at 6:31 pm

you dont. at least i hope not. the county generally will say that the home inspections are for people that have committed fraud in the past, or that have had a major documented change in the household….but that is not true, at least from what i’ve heard. i also haven;t heard about ANY inspections lately – probably associated with the lack of staff. I dont think it would be possible to get those statistics from the County…..

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avatar Ernie McCray January 23, 2010 at 3:57 pm

What a double whammy: down and out and having to face some cold and heartless person sitting at a desk who makes you jump through hoops when you barely had the energy to show up for a food stamp or two.

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avatar Nancy January 28, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Lane,
THANK YOU for the great link that told of the new name for the food stamp program and for the info provided in its report.

I am awaiting some info from the Co. Bd. of Supv. regarding the progress, or lack thereof, in getting new employees to work in the program, and for some other info that I’ll be sharing when I receive it. Did find out that the investigations are not now done for every FS applicant, but for every CalWorks applicant who automatically applies for FS also. Two organizations and City Council member Marti Emerald have been putting pressure on the Co. Bd. of Supv. to get more people into the FS program due to their knowledge of not paying those who it’s known would be eligible as stated in the reference Lane gave.

More later,
Nancy

Nancy

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