More than one third of low-income county residents are “food insecure”
During the holiday season, when celebratory dining is an accepted part of annual festivities, it’s easy to forget that the less fortunate among us have to cobble together dinner from whatever monetary sources are available.
A recent statewide survey found that more than one third of all low-income adults in Nevada County are “food insecure,” a situation county government officials are working to improve through a variety of new outreach programs.
According to data from the California Health Interview Survey, 6,000 low-income adults in Nevada County are estimated to be food insecure. This means that within the county, 36 percent of all adults with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (less than $36,000 a year for family of three in 2009) struggle to afford adequate, nutritious food.
Why is Nevada County’s statistic relevant? Analysts say it points to a disturbing upward trend in reliance on food stamp support.
“These findings provide evidence of what many suspected has been happening since the economic collapse began – households throughout the state are struggling to afford enough food,” said Ken Hecht, executive director of California Food Policy Advocates.
The good news: CalFresh, formerly known as the state’s Food Stamp Program, has been providing some relief for households in need. But, according to social services data, the number of individuals participating in the program on a county to county basis has skyrocketed by as much as 178 percent since 2005.
The CalFresh Program, formerly known as Food Stamps and federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), issues monthly electronic benefits that can be used to buy most foods at many markets and food stores. In Mammoth Lakes, Vons is a participating store.
Mono County has seen at least a doubling of individuals on the program during roughly that same period.
A look back at the County’s figures over a 10-year span show that in September 2001, total federal and state valuations for the program in California amounted to $134 million of which Mono County only used $15,077. Mono County at that time had 94 households and 195 individuals in the program.
As of September 2011, federal and state valuations for California multiplied to $579 million. Los Angeles County is by far the biggest recipient, with nearly $161.5 million of that amount.
“Just to give an example of the growth in the CalFresh program, when I arrived in Mono County in March 2006, there were 243 individuals or 116 households receiving Food Stamps. In September 2011 we had 557 individuals or 338 households receiving CalFresh,” Mary Stanley, Mono County Social Services Program Manager reported.
And this year, Mono County saw its share of the total California valuation jump dramatically to $81,921.
Even with all that funding, California ranks among the worst states for participation in federal nutrition assistance, according to a California Food Policy Advocates report.
In an attempt to improve participation, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that removed most if not all barriers to CalFresh for eligible Californians. That move spurred many counties to become more aggressive in applying for state (funds) to develop programs to target low-income residents who haven’t enrolled, for whatever reason. Experts still say there are barriers to be overcome, including a historic one that many would-be applicants — including those who have lost a home or jobs, but are educated, two-parent families, with college degrees — don’t understand the requirements and assume they’re not eligible. Another barrier is the so-called “stigma of public assistance,” which can cast a shadow over families having to interface with public assistance programs for the first time.
Budget experts suggest that the increases in the funding and participation trend lines are due in part to the nationally recessed economy that began around 2006, and took hold in 2008-2009, and the upsurge in California’s general population that ballooned in the 1990s, but has since slowed considerably between 2000-2010.
The CalFresh Program’s stated goal is to “help improve the health and well-being of qualified households and individuals by providing them a means to meet their nutritional needs.” It’s recent “Making America Stronger” campaign commemorates the 30th anniversary of the reforms achieved by the Food Stamp Act of 1977 and how issuance of food stamps “dramatically reduced the extent of severe hunger in our country.”For more information on CalFresh, visit www.calfresh.ca.gov. –The Union Nevada County, California County News