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Bishop Jaime Soto

Joy and Hope

by Bishop
Jaime Soto

 

 

 

 

Governor should sign bill simplifying food stamps

 

Even though California produces an abundance of crops and livestock, hunger is still a significant problem in our state.

 

Soaring prices of everything from soup to nuts and milk to eggs are taking their toll on families across the state — stretching already thin finances to the limit. Food pantries across the state report that the demand for groceries has surged this summer as the sagging economy had an impact on middle-class families as well as those who are poor.

 

In America, our federal food stamp program should be the first line of defense against hunger. Unfortunately, because of the bureaucracy involved and the numerous federal regulations, applying for food stamps can be a complex process.

 

In fact, just 35 percent of eligible California working households actually receive food stamps. However, there is a something that can be done to increase participation.

 

Even though the food stamp program is a federal endeavor, the states have options to simplify it by reducing the frequency of income and household status reports required from families in order to retain benefits. As it turns out, California is the only state that uses a quarterly reporting system — which amounts to “red tape” that prevents nutrition assistance from reaching families in need.

 

AB 2844, a proposed law passed by the state Legislature and waiting for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature, would require the state to move to a six-month reporting system for food stamps and CalWORKs (our state’s return-to-work system), thereby easing the struggle for many families who need to put food on the table for their children. lthough there is a “one-time start-up” cost of approximately $15 million, there will be an annual ongoing savings of approximately $50 million.

 

If the food stamp program were maximized in California, our state and counties could realize over $70 million a year in increased revenues. While this money would certainly help families, it would also generate close to $4 billion annually in economic activity. Given our state’s fiscal crisis, it would be wise for the governor to sign AB 2844.

 

In the 2003 U. S. bishops’ statement, “For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food,” we remind the faithful that a primary goal of food and agricultural policy should be providing basic nutrition for all.

 

And in our 1989 statement, “Food Policy in a Hungry World,” we bishops call for strengthening the domestic food assistance programs to ensure that no one in America goes hungry or suffers malnutrition.

 

In that statement, we said: “When the economy fails to provide the jobs and income necessary to prevent hunger and malnutrition, the various local, state and national food assistance programs must be funded and expanded to provide food to all in need.”

 

Do we want those who are hungry to say to us: “For I was hungry and you gave me — paperwork?” Wouldn’t it be better to adopt the policies in AB 2844 and move reporting to twice a year so that both programs — CalWORKs and food stamps — are less burdensome for the recipients, less costly for the taxpayers and less work for the administration?

 

 

Joy and Hope Columns