California food stamp benefits go up 13.6%


California food stamp recipients will receive 13.6% more benefits thanks to the federal economic stimulus package, the state Department of Social Services announced Wednesday.

The increase, effective immediately, was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved by Congress and signed by President Obama in February.

John Wagner, the state social services director, said in a statement that the increase “will dramatically help families, while also boosting California’s economy in ways that benefit grocers, food manufacturers and growers.”


The average monthly food stamp benefit received by about 2.5 million Californians will increase from $300 to $341 per household. State food stamp rolls are expected to increase by 300,000 this year, officials said.

The federal stimulus package also provided $22 million in administrative funding for the state food stamp program, and 10 million pounds of food for food banks and pantries that serve low-income Californians through the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program.

Earlier this week, in an effort to help unemployed middle-class workers who do not qualify for government aid, L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed that the county pursue temporary state and federal waivers of eligibility requirements for cash aid, food stamps and housing benefits.

“As more and more people lose their jobs and search in vain for new ones in a shrinking job market, many families are finding themselves, often for the first time, with inadequate funds to pay their rent or mortgage, keep their utilities and provide food for their children,” Molina said Tuesday, citing an article in The Times last week.

Molina noted that each month, food stamp applications are denied for more than 19,000 county residents, and 7,000 applicants are denied benefits under CalWorks, a welfare program for families.

Those numbers are a marked increase from last year. In February, the county denied about 18% more CalWorks applications than the same month last year. Food stamp denials were up 14%, general relief denials were up 10% and Medi-Cal denials were up 7%.


Social Services offices across the Southland have seen an increase in middle-class demand for aid.

“People don’t realize the asset limitations. If you have a BMW, that’s going to be more than the asset requirements,” said Terry Lynn Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Social Services Agency. “People tend to become irate because they paid into the system and find they don’t qualify.”

Sayori Baldwin, deputy director of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, said it is denying about half of those who apply for CalWorks and food stamps, despite the fact that “individuals are in crisis more than what we’ve seen in the past.”

“The face of the stereotypical welfare applicant is changing,” said Steven Couchot, assistant to the director of San Bernardino County’s Transitional Assistance Department. “Beyond the single mothers and struggling families living below the poverty line, we are now seeing recently unemployed professionals and small-business owners seeking assistance.”

Those applying for food stamps included an unemployed veteran with a degree in engineering whose home was in foreclosure and who was caring for his elderly mother, who recently lost her home to foreclosure. With their combined unemployment and Social Security income, they were only eligible for $33 in food stamps.

Molina’s proposal, which supervisors will consider at Tuesday’s meeting, would direct the county’s chief executive, lobbyists and social services officials to pursue legislation or temporary waivers to relax the income and eligibility requirements for CalWorks, food stamps and housing assistance.


Food stamp eligibility requirements are issued by the federal government; CalWorks requirements are set by the state.

“It’s getting a little more desperate for some families,” Molina said. “And we have to raise these issues with Sacramento and Washington.”