The news about California was not good last week. The LA Times ran a jaw-dropping article on August 17th about how our great state of California has the lowest rate in the country of food stamp participation. Lower than even Texas which prides itself in limiting government.
By discouraging Californian needy to sign up for the giant federally-funded food stamp program, the LA Times reported that “only about half of those qualified get the aid ….” This is in contrast to other states – some of which are run by Republicans are able to “enroll 80% to 90% of those with incomes low enough to qualify.”
And this is despite California’s image as a “liberal” and blue state. The Times reported:
That public policy paradox — one of the country’s most liberal states is the stingiest on one of the nation’s biggest benefit programs — has several causes, some intentional, some not. It also has two clear consequences: Millions of Californians don’t get help, and the state leaves hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money on the table.
The federal government pays for almost all of the food stamp program, which provides cash aid to about 46 million Americans at a cost of $74.6 billion this year. States administer the program.
Food stamps are a federally funded program and states receive a huge economic boost from more of their residents with money to dish out on rent, groceries, utilities, other consumer products and services – all of which clearly benefit the local and state economy. Some states, the LA Times reports, even those with their legislature controlled by the GOP and a conservative governor, actually “pay contractors to scour the landscape for people to enroll in the program.”
The report cites “onerous paperwork requirements, inhospitable county benefits offices and confusing online applications” for California residents who attempt to apply for food stamps, and adds, “In California, sometimes even those who qualify get rejected, as understaffed agencies prove unable to properly process applications.”
Some of the more onerous requirements for applicants stem from policies instituted under the state’s Republican governors, our own Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzengger. Both campaigned with pledges to root out government waste. The former-renewed-actor vetoed several bills that would have done away with the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients.
The Times reports:
In 2011 the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California concluded after a study that the costly fingerprinting process did little to combat fraud but did discourage about 280,000 qualified people from signing up for CalFresh, as the food stamp program is known in California.
By then, even Texas had done away with fingerprinting. That October, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill ending California’s fingerprinting requirement.
Other hurdles, however, involve a problem that affects much of California’s government: the outmoded and inefficient data-intake systems the state uses to process applications. Different county agencies use different software programs, which are often incompatible with one another.
Other requirements, such as having to produce bank statements, utility bills, day-care receipts and, until recently, fingerprints on a regular basis frustrates residents and immigrants alike. Plus the state is one of 13 across the country that uphold a lifetime ban on food stamps for anyone convicted of drug dealing.
State law makers were urged at a recent hearing in Sacramento by adult probation officers for San Francisco to do away with that prohibition, a ban that affects nearly 20,000 people. The chief officer stated: “If an individual does not have this basic need met, it can trigger an episode, an addiction, and then that triggers the cycle [of criminal behavior] over and over again.”
The Times does note some positive developments in California, however:
Brown has taken several steps to loosen the state’s rules. In addition to ending the fingerprinting requirement, he also signed a measure that reduced the number of times each year applicants need to prove they qualify for assistance.
Yet nobody expects California to reach a participation rate of 92% anytime soon. That figure comes from conservative Tennessee, where Republicans control the governor’s office and both legislative chambers.
Here is the original LAT article.