Over 4 million people in California are considered eligible for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -better known as food stamps – yet only 48 percent choose to seek benefits.
A new study commissioned by California Food Policy Advocates, a statewide advocacy organization, shows that low program participation can have deeper effects than failing to reach over half the state’s hungry population. The study, which details the economic costs to California’s low participation in the federal program, shows that Yolo County alone is missing out on $24,024,718 in federal benefits. This is equivalent to a potential $44,205,482 stimulus to our local economy.
Not only is it unacceptable to have millions go hungry in the richest country in the world, but in these hard economic times, every resource to stimulate the market should be pursued. The fault lies with the bureaucratic system that prevents them from receiving benefits, not with low-income families underutilizing food stamps.
California’s exceptionally cumbersome process for proving eligibility for assistance is the root cause of the state ranking last in the nation for program participation, according to the report. Poor working families must jump through a series of hoops including extensive asset tests, in-person interviews and fingerprinting. The process requires a high level of commitment in both time and effort – something people struggling to get by on hourly wages rarely have.
There are a number of logical reforms that could cut down on the red tape and increase participation. The study recommends allowing online or phone interviews in place of in-person appointments as well as simplifying the asset reporting process. California has one of the most bureaucratic systems in the country. It is the only state that makes each recipient go through the process again every three months. Moving to a six month reporting system would simplify the process for recipients, cut down on administrative errors and decrease the burden on county food stamp offices.
With an issue as fundamental as hunger in America, the system should work with the needy, not against them. The fact that every dollar spent on food stamps generates $1.84 in economic activity only underscores how imperative it is that the government eliminate unnecessary barriers for low income families to eat.