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Calif. Food Stamp Increase Brings More Food to the Table

Vida En El Valle, News Report, Martn Martnez Posted: Apr 11, 2009

SACRAMENTO -- Families hit hard by the economic crisis will be relieved to find more food in their pantries, thanks to an increase of 13.6 percent in the state's Food Stamp Program.

As of April 1, the 1.15 million California households that use food stamps began receiving about $341 in food support per month, up from $300. The additional money comes from the federal government: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act CARRA) provides the California Food Stamp Program with $47 million in new funding each month through 2010.

Need for aid jumped in recent months as the U.S. economy slumped. Californians' demand for food stamps rose 21 percent durning 2008, from 628,000 in January to 764,000 in December.

Californians face some of the highest unemployment rates in the country, especially in heavily Latino parts of the state. Fresno area communities face up to 40 percent unemployment. Drought is expected to drive up Central Valley unemployment to 100,000 workers or more this summer, sending more families to food banks as their food stamps run out.

"Our research shows that people run out of food stamps two to three weeks into the month. So we're hoping that this increase will push people through to the end of the third week, and then (food banks) will help close that gap until the end of the month," said Jessica Bartholow, director of programs for the California Association of Food Banks, at a press conference on April 1.

Undocumented immigrants remain ineligible for food stamps. However, parents may receive food stamps on behalf of their U 5. citizen children. Food banks serve all people in need, regardless of citizenship.

Bartholow urged undocumented immigrants to feel safe applying for their children's food stamps or going to food banks. Personal information is "vehemently protected" by food banks, Bartholow assured. And most people feel more confident about approaching the food stamp system when they realize that it is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriguclture -- not Homeland Security -- Bartholow said.

ARRA funding is meant to raise the quality as well as the quantity of food for low-income recipients. The Act provides food banks and food pantries with 10 million pounds of new "commodity foods," meaning foods in their basic, non-processed form, like fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs and meat -- as distinguished from high-calorie, low-nutrition snack foods.

"This could not have come at a more critical time," said California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Mark Horton at the press conference. "Because of the current economic crisis, we are seeing evidence that many families are in survival mode...displacing healthy foods in their families' diets with cheaper fast foods and other unhealthy choices."

Food stamps can buy nutritious food at farmers markets as well as stores. "Farmers markets can be a great source of low-cost healthy foods," Horton said. "We are pleased that 62 farmers markets across the state accept food stamp benefits, and we look forward to working with our community partners to increase that number even more."

California food banks will receive a total of 30 million pounds of food more this year than last. Whereas last summer the bags handed out dwindled to as small as just three cans of food each, This year they should remain steady at five to 10 pounds each. "It'll be a bag that can actually serve dinner, for a couple of days," Bartholow said.

Food stamps recently became more easily available to several California groups, thanks to new state and federal legislation. Last year's AB 433 lets some families receive benefits without passing an assets test (to prove they have very limited household assets); 3 I, 000 new households should be eligible as a result. Foster children also have greater access to food stamps when they reach 18. Elderly and disabled Californians have won the option to forego in-person interviews in some cases.

"This is not an April Fools joke, this is real: Californians food in need of assistance are going to have more food through the food stamp program and more food through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (food banks)," Bartholow said.

Related Articles:

Frugality is Healthy and Wise

Family Dinners Are a Casualty of Hard Times

How to Survive in New York on Mickey D's Coupons

How to Survive on $6 a Day in San Francisco: A Guide to Dining on the Cheap

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