Tag Archives: food security

Why Don’t San Diegoans Participate in Food Stamps?

When you look at food stamp (now called SNAP) participation rates, California as a state ranks 4th from the bottom. And if you look at the food stamp participation rates of the 24 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, San Diego ranks dead last. This means hungry people don’t eat, but it also means that San Diego county loses $144 million annually. And that’s $144 million in the form of the very best economic stimulus the government can give us – each dollar of food stamps generates about $1.80 in economic activity.

Let’s take a look at San Diego as a case study: Why aren’t San Diegoans getting food stamps? And what can we learn from San Diego that might help us increase the participation rate nationally.

First up, those eligible for food stamps don’t all participate at the same rate. Take a look at this:

Food Stamp Participation in 2003

56% of total eligible population

74% of eligible children

28% of eligible elderly individuals

62% of individuals in households with no earnings

47% of individuals in households with earnings

Source: Sources of Variation in State-Level Food Stamp Participation (PDF)

So when you see the HUGE discrepancy between the 89.5% of eligible food stamp recipients who participated in Missouri in 2003 and the miserably low 29% of those who participate in San Diego, that explains part of what’s going on. If San Diego’s eligible population is made up of demographics that are less likely to participate, then naturally San Diego’s participation rate will be lower as a result.

That explains SOME of the discrepancy but not all. Another possible explanation is that differing state policies make it more or less likely for those eligible to apply or receive food stamps. For example:

  • Certification period – How frequently must an applicant reapply (between 3-12 months)
  • Reporting requirement – Are applicants required to report any changes in income? (And if so, how frequently?)
  • Categorical eligibility – Is any group of people automatically eligible for food stamps if they are eligible for another government program?
  • Fingerprinting – Are applicants subject to fingerprinting, which might discourage some from applying?
  • Application page length
  • Work requirements – Are able bodied adults required to work?
  • Number of visits required to apply
  • State outreach – Does the state engage in any outreach activities?

I can imagine that if your state makes it a real pain in the butt to apply for food stamps, you might just give up. Especially if you wouldn’t receive very much in benefits anyway. Maybe you’d make that first trip to apply but if subsequent visits were required, they want your fingerprint, and the application’s long, maybe you don’t bother. Or maybe you bother the first time, but three months later when they want you to re-certify, it’s just not worth the hassle.

The USDA crunched the numbers to see if the make-up of the population accounted for the differences in participation rates (it did some, but not too significantly), or if different state policies explained the discrepancies. The answer? Well, they couldn’t find any statistically significant difference in participation rates based on the policies.

However, they also say that they doubt that the variation in participation rates is totally random. And it’s hard to believe that a state that makes its application process difficult and obnoxious wouldn’t have any effect on its participation rate.

The USDA suspects that their inability to account for differences in participation may be due to lack of sufficient data or overly imprecise data, or perhaps similar policies are implemented differently, making statistical comparisons between them impossible. (For example, if two states had an identical policy but implemented it differently. When the USDA does its number crunching these states would be lumped into the same category but in reality food stamp applicants in either state would have very different experiences.) Another possibility is that “aggregate measures may mask meaningful local variations.” Last, perhaps state procedures – how the states actually do what they do – are more important than state policies.

I’m glad the USDA is looking into this, and I hope they can find an answer that explains why 70% of those eligible for food stamps in San Diego do not receive them.

Participation Rate (%) by State (2003)

Missouri 89.5

Oregon 85.7

Tennessee 83.1

Hawaii 79.1

DC 74.3

Oklahoma 73.0

Maine 69.9

Kentucky 68.9

Mississippi 67.9

Georgia 67.5

Louisiana 66.2

South Carolina 65.9

Ohio 65.2

Michigan 65.1

Arizona 65.0

West Virginia 64.9

Indiana 63.6

Minnesota 63.1

Alaska 61.5

Vermont 60.8

Illinois 60.6

Nebraska 60.5

Arkansas 60.1

North Dakota 57.8

Iowa 57.2

Delaware 54.8

South Dakota 54.3

Idaho 54.2

Alabama 54.1

Pennsylvania 54.0

Connecticut 53.8

Wisconsin 53.3

Kansas 53.0

New Mexico 53.0

Rhode Island 51.9

Virginia 51.5

Washington 51.4

Utah 50.9

New York 50.2

New Hampshire 49.7

Wyoming 49.2

Florida 48.9

New Jersey 48.7

Maryland 48.1

Texas 47.4

Colorado 45.5

North Carolina 45.4

California 45.3

Montana 44.6

Nevada 41.0

Massachusetts 40.1

Hungry for Security? How About Food Security?

Yesterday, I saw this in The Register. And as soon as I saw this, I was stopped in my tracks.

Roughly 2.5 million low-income adults in California can’t afford to adequately feed their families, resulting in health problems and household stress, according to a UCLA report released this week.

The report measures food insecurity, which can range from reduced quality or variety of diet to skipping meals because of costs. In 2005, 30 percent of low-income adults statewide reported choosing between food and other basic needs, according to data from the California Health Interview Study. Among them, 9 percent experienced a disruption in eating habits or skipped meals. The study did not include the homeless.

In Orange County, the UCLA report says an estimated 190,000 low-income adults struggle to buy food, and about 36,000 people sometimes go hungry. The numbers don’t include children.

Oh my goodness! 2.5 million people in California can’t afford to feed their families? And 190,000 of them are in “wealthy” Orange County? 145,000 of them in San Bernardino County? 740,000 of them in LA County? What’s happening to these people who can’t afford to eat? Why is this happening? And what can we do to solve this problem?

Follow me after the flip for more…

So why exactly is this happening? The UCLA report offers a harrowing answer:

“Food expenditures are the most flexible item in household budgets and are frequently squeezed when income dips or unemployment strikes.”

So these people are having to give up food as they try to scrape up the cash to pay for the mortgage or the rent, as well as the electric bill, and the heating bill, and the water bill, and all those other expenses. They’re having to forgo one of the most basic human needs in order to provide for other basic human needs. Doesn’t this seem disturbing? This shouldn’t be happening. No one should be going hungry. Not in this nation, not in this state, not in any of our communities.

After all, this creates huge societal problems. Hunger does not only cause a growling tummy. So what can happen when people can’t eat? Oh, the children just can’t get educated while the adults don’t get proper health care.

Back to The Register:

According to the research, children living in households without a sufficient food supply miss more school and experience more emotional problems. Adults are more likely to feel anxious or depressed. Additionally, families are more likely to forgo medical care and filling prescriptions, which affects their overall health.

While it may seem counterintuitive, adults living in households with a shortage of quality food were more likely to be overweight, according to the brief. As a solution, the report recommends helping households receive federally funded help, such as food stamps and child nutrition programs.

We all know the value of education. We know the value of good, preventive health care. We all know the value of good mental and emotional health. This is why we can’t all these poor folks go hungry. Their hunger only contributes to greater problems for them, and for others.

So what can be done about this? What can we do to help these people afford something to eat? Well, maybe can support something like the NOURISH Act. The report suggested that the federal government step up its aid for these poor people who can’t help themselves in providing food for the family table. Well, Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino) has come up with a solution here.

Now I may not always see eye to eye with Joe Baca, but this time he’s totally right on:

“We have a moral obligation to feed the hungry. The NOURISH Act includes many provisions to expand assistance to families and improve access for eligible underserved populations. I also propose increasing funding for food banks which provide important help when government programs are not sufficient to meet the rising demands of American families facing hunger.”

We really need to do something about this hidden crisis. The US is supposed to be the richest nation on earth, and California is supposed to be one of the richest states in this nation. And yet, some 2.5 million people struggle to afford feeding their families. This just shouldn’t be happening.

The NOURISH Act sounds like a good start toward solving this problem. Perhaps we should thank Joe Baca for this good legislation. And maybe, we should write our representatives, and urge them to support Baca’s legislation. We just can’t let any more people needlessly go hungry.