Commentary: Food Stamp Follies

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, December 4, 2009
When it comes to food stamps, is California mean spirited or just inept? The federal government recently issued its latest report on food stamp participation rates. And once again California ranked near the bottom in 2007, the last year surveyed. Only 48 percent of California residents eligible for food stamps that year got them. Only the state of Wyoming ranked lower. Among the working poor, California ranked dead last with 33 percent of those eligible receiving food assistance.  Bureaucratic barriers account for California’s abysmal showing. Four times a year reporting is one of them. Every other state requires recipients to fill out food stamp forms only twice a year. The other barrier is finger print imaging  In California, every adult in a household where food stamps are used has to have their finger prints scanned. It’s a practice most other states have abandoned because it was ineffective at reducing fraud.
It’s not just the poor who suffer, California’s economy is also short changed. Food stamps are paid for entirely by the federal government. So when nearly three million Californians who were entitled to food assistance did not get it in 2007, the state lost more than three and a half billion dollars in direct federal support. That makes California’s food stamp policies not just inept and mean spirited but fiscally irresponsible.  

Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.