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Report says California could be losing out on food stamp funding

Posted at 5:48 PM, Jul 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-23 19:23:49-04

A new report from California Food Policy Advocates shows the state could be missing out on $1.8 billion in federal funding for CalFresh.

The advocacy group believes that’s because not everyone who is eligible for the benefits is signing up.

California is among the five worst states in the country when it comes to reaching people eligible for nutrition assistance. According to California Food Policy Advocates, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties are missing out on close to $50 million that could be helping prevent people from going hungry.

When it comes to helping those that don’t have stable access to food on the Central Coast, the need is greater than you may think.

“14,000 households receive a food distribution every month from us. That’s equivalent to 30,000 individuals and we’re reaching seniors, working families and children,” explained Kevin Drabinski, CEO of the Foodbank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.

Many people the food banks in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties assist are also signed up for CalFresh, the state’s supplemental nutrition assistance program.

“We’re actually one of the counties that’s underutilizing CalFresh so that means that we have a lot of families and a lot of individuals who are qualified for the program but they’re not applying for the program or they’re not aware they’re qualified for the program,” said Laurel Alcantar, North County Development Manager for the Santa Barbara County Foodbank.

According to the CalFresh website:

  • San Luis Obispo County has a 47% participation rate (of an estimated 36,347 eligible households)
  • Santa Barbara County has a 63% participation rate (of an estimated 61,311 households)

It’s more than just a local problem. California Food Policy Advocates says only about 72% of those eligible for CalFresh are signing up.

The lack of signups translates to a loss of over a billion dollars in federal funding.

Here on the Central Coast, the advocacy group says:

  • San Luis Obispo County could see an additional $21,700,000 if CalFresh reached all eligible individuals, with an economic boost of $38,900,000.
  • In Santa Barbara County, CalFresh-eligible individuals could generate $51,300,000 in economic activity and receive an additional $28,700,000 in federal funding for CalFresh.

But how can food stamp dollars translate to more money locally?

“They’re spending that at local grocery stores, markets and farmers markets and that’s money that stays right here in the community,” Drabinski explained.

So why aren’t people signing up?

The process can be complicated. The application itself is 18 pages long and many places in the state don’t offer a service that helps applicants from start to finish.

A new state bill (SB 285) is trying to change that.

“I think the idea that you could make it seamless from beginning to end and take care of it in a short time would boost enrollment and keep people in the program longer,” Drabinksi said.

The bill would also create participation rates for counties in California to monitor how many CalFresh signups they’re getting. The bill still has to be heard in an appropriations committee before it potentially heads to the Assembly floor.

On June 1, half a million people who receive SSI benefits (those who are 65 years of age or older, or those with disabilities) became eligible for CalFresh, adding to the number of people who can apply.

Locally, there were an additional 1,755 newly CalFresh-eligible households in San Luis Obispo County and 3,381 in Santa Barbara County.