California leaves billions of unused federal food-stamp dollars on the table each year. Meanwhile, the state’s red-tape labyrinth lets millions go hungry.
One day last month, Monica Turner received a notice in the mail that tested her usually upbeat personality. Out of work since October and supporting two children, she was about to be evicted.
Unsure what to do next, and with the end of the month rapidly approaching, Turner reluctantly turned to two sources for help. For the rent, her parents agreed to lend a hand. For food and other basic needs, Turner, like 192,000 others in Sacramento County, turned to public assistance known as CalFresh, or food stamps.
Turner paid her rent and wasn’t kicked out. But for food and necessities, she entered a bureaucratic labyrinth, one from which she has yet to emerge. It’s truly a maze, but those who stick it out win a prize of roughly $4.50 per person, or about $31 a week, or $325 monthly for a household.
But Turner was hindered by the food stamp process’s web of appointments and paperwork. Many Californians give up or don’t bother. As a result, the state leaves $4.9 billion in benefits on the table each year, money that could juice the economy by $8.7 billion in related activity.