Californians Leave Billions in Food Stamps on the Table Untouched

Monday, March 04, 2013


No state’s residents are worse than Californians when it comes to claiming food stamp benefits from the federal government.

Fifty-five percent of eligible Californians decline to apply for federally-funded nutrition benefits on a yearly basis, according to California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), leaving $4.7 billion in Washington. The next worst state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is Wyoming at 60%. Maine and Oregon get perfect scores and four other states have 92% participation rates or better.

In 2010, 75% of all those eligible nationally applied for benefits.

The nonprofit CFPA calculated that injecting $4.7 billion into the California economy would have generated $8.3 billion in economic activity. Needless to say, a lot of Californians would have been healthier, happier and less hungry if they had taken the money.

The nonprofit CFPA attributed the low participation rate to “stigma, misinformation about eligibility, and complicated enrollment processes.”

The food stamp program, now known in the state as CalFresh, is available to individuals with incomes below 125% of the federal poverty threshold who meet certain other requirements. The USDA breaks out a separate category for the working poor who have slightly higher income, and as bad as California ranks overall, it fares much worse in that regard. In 2010, only 42% of those eligible applied for assistance.

The CFPA’s annual Program Access Index details participation by residents in each of the California’s 58 counties and ranks the counties accordingly. Among the larger counties, San Bernardino ranked 3rd, Sacramento 4th, Fresno 5th, Kern 23rd, Riverside 24th, Ventura 30th, Alameda 31st, Los Angeles 37th, Santa Clara 38th, Contra Costa 39th, San Francisco 41st, Orange 44th and San Diego 47th.

Del Norte County ranked No. 1 and Mono County was last.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Study: Californians Leave Billions in Federal Food Stamp Funds Unclaimed (by Beau Yarbrough, San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

New Analysis Ranks Los Angeles County 37th in Utilization of CalFresh (California Food Policy Advocates) (pdf)

The Economic Impact of CalFresh Participation (California Food Policy Advocates)

State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates in 2010 (U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service) (pdf)


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