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One In Nine Americans On Food Stamps

Black Voice News.com, News Report , Chris Levister Posted: Aug 17, 2009

For the first time, 34 million Americans received food stamps in May according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the Food Stamp Program (SNAP) in cooperation with State and local governments. The report is another symptom of the longest and one of deepest recessions since the Great Depression.

SNAP enrollment surged by 2 percent to reach a record 34.4 million people, or one in nine Americans.

People are desperate, says Gary Madden director, 211 San Bernardino County, a local United Way Initiative that provides people in need access, information and referrals to non emergency health and social services. Madden says the number of calls for help is unprecedented.

People calling now are saying things like Ive never asked for help in my life. I dont know what Im going to do Ive lost my job and Im about to lose my home. More men are calling. Families are doubling up in homes. African-Americans are particularly vulnerable, Madden said. He adds frustration levels are very high.

Callers are saying, bank bailouts, auto company bailouts, wheres my bailout.

Adding insult to injury says Madden is an already over burdened emergency assistance network driven to the brink by deep budget cuts, and eligibility barriers that often confuse or outright prevent access to emergency help.

Theres a lot of confusion among working people and families with laid off bread winners.

He says combine Californias historically tough eligibility requirements for food stamps with charities that are already overwhelmed and counties with less money and fewer people to administer help. Its pretty bleak.

Officials around the region say while the number of applicants soars, so does the confusion over eligibility. Sayori Baldwin, deputy director of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, said it is denying about half of those who apply for CalWorks and food stamps, despite the fact that individuals are in crisis more than what weve seen in the past.

Those numbers are a marked increase from last year. In February, Inland counties denied about 18% more CalWorks applications than the same month last year. Food stamp denials were up 14%, general relief denials were up 10% and Medi-Cal denials were up 7%.

For low income working individuals, like James Ealy food stamps make a key difference in keeping families fed throughout the month. Ealy was among those applying for food stamps in Fontana last week. The long line of applicants included an unemployed veteran with a degree in engineering who is caring for his elderly mother, who recently lost her home to foreclosure. With their combined unemployment and Social Security income, they were only eligible for $33 in food stamps.

People dont realize the asset limitations. If you have a BMW, thats going to be more than the asset requirements, said Terry Lynn Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Social Services Agency. People tend to become irate because they paid into the system and find they dont qualify. Food stamp eligibility requirements are issued by the federal government; CalWorks requirements are set by the state.

The face of the stereotypical welfare applicant is changing, said Steven Couchot, assistant to the director of San Bernardino Countys Transitional Assistance Department. Beyond the single mothers and struggling families living below the poverty line, we are now seeing recently unemployed professionals and small-business owners seeking assistance.

In an effort to help unemployed middle-class workers who do not qualify for government aid, San Bernardino County 5th District Supervisor Josie Gonzales supports lowering requirements and streamlining the eligibility process so individuals and families can expeditiously receive the aid they need.

Why should people be required to lose almost everything before we help them? said Gonzales. However, I propose limiting the extent of time to receive such services, while at the same time promoting the economic stimulus opportunities that are available through agencies and departments, such as the Workforce Investment Board, Housing and Urban Development, and Community Action Partnership. She said the sooner people get the information they need and the easier it is to access it, the sooner families can recover.

California food stamp recipients will receive 13.6% more benefits thanks to the federal economic stimulus package, according to the state Department of Social Services. The increase was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved by Congress and signed by President Obama in February.

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