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Food Stamp Use Spikes in California

Black Voice News, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: Jun 05, 2008

State Seeks More Sign Ups; Drug Felons are now Eligible

Inland Empire families, already reeling from the housing meltdown and soaring energy costs, are taking another hit to household budgets as food prices increase at the fastest rate since 1990. If there was any doubt that rising prices and a souring economy are pummeling the region, more proof has arrived.

The number of households using food stamps is up 23 percent in San Bernardino County since April of last year and up 16 percent in Riverside County, according to data released by the California Department of Social Services. And government officials expect those numbers to grow.

"We're in the midst of an economic tsunami. You take all these issues: the cost of gas, the cost of food and the lack of affordable housing," said Dave Paradine, president/chief executive officer for Find Food Bank, Inc. "The people seeking food assistance used to be the homeless, and the unemployed. Now, in the last few years, the shift we've seen is to the working poor, particularly mothers with children."

The trend is statewide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Between February 2007 and February this year, the number of California households using food stamps jumped 21 percent.

ImageBehind these numbers are real people, like Bernard Moore of Riverside, a single father with two jobs and three kids. On a recent day this spring Moore who lost his wife to cancer in 2007 reluctantly applied for public assistance. As he shopped for food at a big box warehouse store, he explained that his income selling luxury cruises which depends largely on commission, has plummeted as Americans have cut back on spending. And his long commute to work in Orange County is decimating his paycheck.

Moore said he tried to avoid applying for food stamps for months by buying rice by the 10-pound bag and saving on a $40-a-week "meat plan" that provided him with discount ground beef. He can no longer afford the luxury' of eating out. Last week he left his church's food pantry clutching a bag of oranges, carrots, 2 loaves of bread, a block of cheese and a gallon of milk.

Moore is sitting on a $33,000 hospital bill the result of his late wife's lengthy illness and to make matters worse he is bracing for the adjustable arm on his mortgage to soar within a year.

In the last year, the price of food items consumed at home has gone up by 5 percent nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price of milk and rice has risen by 13 percent; the cost of eggs by 30 percent.

In the coming year, USDA is predicting retail food prices will go up another 5 percent; some analysts say it could rise by as much as 10 percent.

Although the increase in food stamps usage is a symptom of an ailing economy, state officials are trying to turn the increased demand into a positive opportunity by using newspaper, radio and television ads to educate residents about the help available and get more people who need aid to sign up.

In San Bernardino the number of people on food stamps has climbed to almost 166,000 clients - authorities estimate that 320,000 people qualify for the assistance but don't use it, either because they don't know they can get it, are daunted by the application process, or don't want the stigma. In Riverside County nearly 200,000 people are eligible but don't use the benefits.

That was before Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT). California no longer uses those tell-tale paper coupons. To help enhance security and reduce the stigma often associated with receiving food stamps, benefits are transferred electronically into a special account on a monthly basis. Families are given a debit card. They can access their benefits by using their EBT card at point-of sale (POS) machines located right at the checkout counter at grocery and retail locations across the state.

Benefits cannot be used to buy nonfood items like toothpaste, household supplies, personal care products, alcohol or medicine.

To qualify applicants must be U.S. citizens or meet special non citizen criteria. Most applicants between 16 and 60 must work, be looking for work or be enrolled in employment training unless they meet special exemptions. Applicants must be deemed financially needy based on federal poverty limits, family size and living expenses, such as the cost of housing.

Individuals who are convicted of using or possessing drugs are now eligible to receive food stamps as long as they meet certain requirements.

Applications for food stamps are available by phone, in person, by fax by mail or online.

Call (951) 358-3000 Riverside County Department of Public Social Services; (909) 386-9502 San Bernardino County Human Services.

Related Articles:

Half of New Orleans' Poor Permanently Displaced: Failure or Success?

Poor to Take Brunt of California Budget Cuts

Half of New Orleans' Poor Permanently Displaced: Failure or Success?

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