"Every three months I had to ask the day care to write a note detailing what I paid," she said. Staff would keep forgetting. "Finally, one day I had to go in and tell them. 'You know, we are receiving food stamps. I really need you to write this note for me.'…. It was humiliating."
In most other states, Palmer would not have to produce such receipts; few require as much paperwork and none still require people to keep proving their eligibility as often.
"People are being denied benefits because of policies California chooses to employ," said Jessica Bartholow, a legislative advocate at the nonprofit Western Center on Law and Poverty.
Some of those policies came into place under two Republican governors, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who campaigned on promises to vigorously root out government waste.
Schwarzenegger vetoed several bills to end the state's fingerprinting of food stamp recipients.
"Our first responsibility to taxpayers is to take necessary steps to prevent fraud and abuse," he wrote in a 2005 veto message.
In 2011 the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California concluded after a study that the costly fingerprinting process did little to combat fraud but did discourage about 280,000 qualified people from signing up for CalFresh, as the food stamp program is known in California.
By then, even Texas had done away with fingerprinting. That October, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill ending California's fingerprinting requirement.
Other hurdles, however, involve a problem that affects much of California's government: the outmoded and inefficient data-intake systems the state uses to process applications. Different county agencies use different software programs, which are often incompatible with one another.
As other states have moved nimbly to overhaul their application processes, constantly simplifying them, California finds even a minor tweak can be a monumental undertaking.
The state's complex history of dealing with immigrant families also has had a lingering effect. Only 20 years ago, California voters directed law enforcement to prosecute people suspected of being in the country illegally who applied for benefits.
The state's requirements to produce bank statements, utility bills, day-care receipts and, until recently, fingerprints have left many immigrants, even those in the country legally, wary that an application will trigger a visit from immigration authorities, advocates say.
California is also one of 13 states that has a lifetime ban on food stamps for anyone convicted of drug dealing.
At a recent hearing in Sacramento, Wendy Still, chief adult probation officer for San Francisco, urged lawmakers to lift the ban, which affects about 20,000 felons. "If an individual does not have this basic need met, it can trigger an episode, an addiction, and then that triggers the cycle [of criminal behavior] over and over again," she said.
Brown has taken several steps to loosen the state's rules. In addition to ending the fingerprinting requirement, he also signed a measure that reduced the number of times each year applicants need to prove they qualify for assistance.
Yet nobody expects California to reach a participation rate of 92% anytime soon. That figure comes from conservative Tennessee, where Republicans control the governor's office and both legislative chambers.