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L.A. Now Live: California discourages food stamps enrollment

August 19, 2013
  • California discourages eligible people from signing up for food stamps to buy groceries, at rates conservative activists elsewhere envy.
California discourages eligible people from signing up for food stamps… (Matt Rourke / Associated…)

Talk with Times reporter Evan Halper at 9 a.m. about California’s food stamp program, which ranks among the stingiest in the nation enrollment-wise.

Liberal California discourages eligible people from signing up for food stamps at rates conservative activists elsewhere envy. Only about half of the Californians who qualify for help get it.

That stands in contrast to other states, including some deeply Republican ones, that enroll 80% to 90% of those with incomes low enough to qualify.

That public policy paradox—one of the country's most liberal states is the stingiest on one of the nation's biggest benefit programs—has several causes, some intentional, some not. It also has two clear consequences: Millions of Californians don't get help, and the state leaves hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money on the table.

The federal government pays for almost all of the food stamp program, which provides cash aid to about 46 million Americans at a cost of $74.6 billion this year. States administer the program.

In California, onerous paperwork requirements, inhospitable county benefits offices and confusing online applications often prevail. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest study reflects the participation rate in 2010, agency enrollment figures released since then leave California stuck in last place.

In California, sometimes even those who qualify get rejected, as understaffed agencies prove unable to properly process applications.

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