Marti Emerald plans to use today’s meeting of the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, of which she is chairwoman, to discuss the region’s food stamps program. The committee will hear presentations from the local food bank, school district, the county’s Health and Human Services Department and the San Diego Hunger Coalition.

San Diego consistently ranks last among major metropolitan areas for its participation rate in the federal food stamps program, according to an annual study compiled by the Food Research and Action Network. In the most recent report, San Diego’s participation rate among people whose incomes make them eligible for the benefit was 29 percent. The next lowest rate was Denver, with a rate of 42 percent. Los Angeles’s participation rate was 50 percent.

The county had about 83,000 individuals enrolled in its food stamps program in 2006. Another 202,000 were eligible and not enrolled. The county lost out on $100.96 million in federal dollars that would have been spent in local grocery stores that year, the report calculated.

Critics of the county’s administration of the program have said the county’s concerns about avoiding welfare fraud outweigh its efforts to enroll eligible people in the program.

Here’s some context from a story I wrote about the region’s food stamps issues in 2007:

For the program as a whole, anti-hunger advocates fear their concerns for bottom-scraping participation rates fall on deaf ears in the county’s board. The county staff in charge of the program aren’t entirely culpable for its problems, they say, but without the political gusto of a supervisor prioritizing the reversal of the poor participation rate, the program seems mired.

“I definitely don’t think it’s a lack of (staff) expertise, but at this point, there’s not a champion on the Board of Supervisors,” said Tia Anzellotti, director of the San Diego Hunger Coalition, a nonprofit agency connecting various social service providers with the government. “There’s a little bit of, ‘This is the way it’s been,’ which gets momentum and is hard to stop. It’s big and heavy and it’s been going this way for so long.”

Though the city doesn’t have jurisdiction to regulate the region’s food stamps program, the meeting will serve to bring a bunch of interested officials together. Emerald is the latest government official to call attention to the program. My colleague Emily Alpert reported in December that school board member Richard Barrera has suggested schools could double as intake centers for families to sign up for the benefit.

If you want to attend the meeting, it’s at 2 p.m. on the 12th floor at 202 C Street.


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