Despite repeated criticism and refutation by local government officials, a report released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that San Diego still lags well behind the state and nation in enrolling eligible low-income houses in CalFresh, California's version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still commonly referred to as "food stamps."
San Diego landed in a six-way tie for 42nd out of 58 counties in the state, enrolling an estimated 30.7 percent of eligible households in the CalFresh program — the statewide average enrollment was 37.2 percent. In order to qualify for benefits, recipients must have an adjusted household income level less than double the federal poverty rate, currently about $24,000 for a family of four.
The cost of providing food assistance is largely borne by the federal government, which means that higher enrollment of eligible families brings more money into the region. In 2015, California received $7.53 billion, or about $142 a month toward each enrolled family's grocery bill — another $80 million program funded by the state (equaling about 1 percent of total expenditures) provides benefits to non-citizen permanent legal residents ineligible for federal assistance.
Current enrollments are an improvement: in 2010, San Diego County ranked 55th of 58, enrolling only 26.5 percent of eligible households. But the county doesn't necessarily see things the same way.
Last November, the county disputed another study finding just under 50 percent eligible enrollment by claiming that a full 90 percent of local residents able to claim benefits were doing so. Still, there's no doubt that participation in food-assistance programs is on the rise, though Californians are far less likely than residents of other states to rely on federal aid.
"California’s SNAP enrollment has lagged behind the nation for more than a decade, but the gap is narrowing," says the Public Policy Institute study. "During the Great Recession and its aftermath, the share of all Californians receiving CalFresh rose sharply — from 5.7% in 2008 to 11.3% in 2015. Still, in the rest of the United States, 14.7% of residents received SNAP benefits in 2015."