Cutting Even More Red Tape in California’s Food Stamp Program

April 13, 2010

Currently, California families who receive food stamp benefits must repeat the entire application process when they move to a new county in order to continue receiving benefits. That’s because California doesn’t seamlessly transfer food stamp recipients’ information across county lines. Requiring a new application imposes a needless paperwork burden on low-income families – not to mention county workers – that no doubt causes many eligible Californians to lose food stamp benefits each year.

AB 2018 (Skinner), which will be heard in the Assembly Human Services Committee this afternoon, would cut this red tape by requiring the Department of Social Services to establish an “inter-county transfer” process for food stamp recipients who move across county lines. This change would maintain recipients’ eligibility and allow them to avoid a break in benefits without having to submit a new food stamp application. Similar transfer processes already exist in CalWORKs and Medi-Cal. AB 2018 would use those existing processes for food stamp recipients who are also enrolled in those programs. In addition, a new, “client-friendly” transfer process would be created for families who receive only food stamps.

AB 2018 is one of two bills on the Human Services Committee’s docket today that would simplify safety-net programs for low-income families. AB 1642, which we blogged about last week, would reduce reporting requirements for food stamp and CalWORKs recipients from four times to twice per year. These bills give Committee members a golden opportunity to lead the charge against red tape and toward program simplification at a time when the safety net is more important than ever.

— Scott Graves

Bookmark and Share


Food Stamp Enrollment Surpasses 3 Million

January 11, 2010

Just over 3 million Californians received food stamp benefits in October 2009, according to new data from the Department of Social Services. Enrollment in the program jumped by about 905,000 (43.0 percent) from October 2007, a period when California was sliding into a deep recession. However, as we pointed out in our recent report, California historically has had a low participation rate in the Food Stamp Program, and the state still has many policies in place that impede access. These policies are a key reason why nearly 2.2 million eligible Californians did not receive food stamp benefits as recently as 2007.

Enrolling more eligible Californians in the Food Stamp Program is a win-win scenario: Benefits, which are 100 percent federally funded, help struggling families as well as struggling local economies. According to our estimates, enrolling 100,000 more eligible Californians would bring roughly $177 million in additional food stamp benefits to California each year. Enrolling 10 times that number – 1 million eligible Californians – would bring about $1.8 billion in federally funded food stamp benefits to the state each year. This infusion of federal funding would provide a significant boost to local economies: Economists estimate that every dollar spent on food stamp benefits increases economic activity by $1.73.

— Scott Graves

Bookmark and Share


Boosting Participation in the Food Stamp Program

December 22, 2009

Getting more eligible Californians into the Food Stamp Program (FSP) is a win-win scenario for California: Food stamp benefits not only help struggling families, but they also help struggling local economies.

A new CBP report released today shows that although FSP enrollment has increased rapidly during the economic downturn, California historically has had a low participation rate, and the state still has many policies in place that impede access. We think the downturn makes it more important than ever for the state and counties to implement strategies to boost participation in the program.

— Scott Graves

Bookmark and Share


Food Stamp Program Helps 2.9 Million Californians Avert Hunger

November 24, 2009

With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, it seems fitting to give thanks for a key component of the nation’s safety net for low-income families – the Food Stamp Program. More and more Californians with incomes below or near the poverty line turned to the program to help put nutritious food on their tables as the recession deepened and job losses mounted over the past two years. The number of Californians receiving food stamp benefits reached nearly 2.9 million in August 2009, an increase of more than 814,500 (39.4 percent) from the August 2007 level of nearly 2.1 million. By comparison, the number of Californians receiving food stamp benefits during the prior two-year period – August 2005 to August 2007 – increased by just 3.1 percent.

The impact of food stamp benefits, which are 100 percent federally funded, extends beyond the households that receive them. Food stamp benefits free up income that low-income households would otherwise likely spend on food, thereby allowing families to increase their purchases of clothing and other necessities, which in turn boosts economic activity. Economists estimate that every dollar spent on food stamp benefits increases economic activity by $1.73 – a significant “bang for the buck.” Increased economic activity, in turn, boosts state sales tax revenues because many purchases that food stamp households make are subject to the sales tax. In short, increasing the number of Californians who receive food stamp benefits not only helps low-income families avert hunger, but also draws more federal dollars into the state, boosting both economic activity and state revenues.

— Scott Graves

Bookmark and Share


New Food Stamp Rules Help California’s Low-Income Families

July 8, 2009

California families struggling to put food on the table during a period of record-high unemployment (the unemployment rate was 11.5 percent as of May) received a boost from a new state policy that took effect last week. Under new rules issued by the Department of Social Services (DSS) that reflect a change in state law (Beall, Chapter 625 of 2008), California families with children that receive nutritional benefits through the Food Stamp Program no longer have to meet the “asset test,” which limits most households to just $2,000 in savings and other assets (with some exceptions) in order to qualify for benefits.

Now, families coping with a layoff and a significant loss of income won’t have to “spend down” their savings in order to qualify for food stamp benefits. In addition, some families that would have forgone food stamp benefits in order to preserve more of their hard-won savings are now more likely to participate in the program. Finally, families that currently receive food stamps won’t have to curtail their efforts to save for the future in order to stay under the artificial $2,000 threshold. (However, families still must continue to meet other requirements, including a stringent income test.) This policy change took effect on July 1 for current food stamp recipients with children, and counties are required to eliminate the asset test for new food stamp applicants with children by January 1, 2010. However, DSS decided not to change the rules for some households: Unlike families with children, single adults or adults who live together without kids must continue to meet the asset test to qualify for food stamp benefits.

Helping more low-income California families qualify for and retain food stamp benefits will help boost the state’s ailing economy by circulating more federal dollars through local economies. Food stamp benefits are 100 percent federally funded, and the economic recovery bill signed by President Obama in February temporarily increased benefits by 13.6 percent. This increase will raise the average household benefit in California from about $300 to $341 per month. As the Wall Street Journal noted yesterday, “the food-stamp boost [to the economy] is almost immediate,” with families redeeming nearly all benefits within a month of receipt. “The quick influx of cash into the economy reflects the often desperate situation faced by millions of households struggling to put enough food on the table.”

— Scott Graves

Bookmark and Share