One of San Diego County’s jobs is to help the desperate, those who have fallen into poverty and need help to survive. But as a investigation shows, the county’s safety net is riddled with gaps.

Among the state’s 12 largest counties, San Diego County ranks at or near the bottom in several areas regarding aid to the poor. In fact, San Diego turns down food-stamp and welfare applicants at a higher rate than any of the other counties. And it’s one of the three counties least likely to enroll eligible residents in a welfare-to-work program.

As we report, the gaps in the safety net have left the sick to get sicker. They have locked applicants in months of bureaucratic and legal runaround. They have kept help out of the hands of professionals who’ve fallen on hard times during the recession. It has sometimes taken a judge’s order to force the county to provide even a minimum level of help.

Today’s story, the first of two parts, goes beyond the numbers to tell the stories of two people who struggled to get help. And we explain how county supervisors have rebelled against picking up the slack left by the state.

County officials defend their practices. “I don’t think we make any apologies,” said a county supervisor. Another said she hasn’t heard demands that the county hand out more food stamps or welfare checks.

Tomorrow: How an ingrained political culture and county-state legal strife contributed to the wide social-aid chasm in San Diego County.

And today, make sure to check the Survival in San Diego blog, where you’ll find a guide to the series and details about how we gathered information. Also: Our goal is to create a community conversation about these issues. We want to hear your questions and understand your experiences.

In other news for this Monday:

  • There is a new edition of Fact Check TV up for your viewing. Remember every Friday evening during the 6 p.m. news on NBC 7/39, we do the video version of the San Diego Fact Check. Few things we’ve embarked on have been received as well as this project so we’ll try to keep up with the demand for this kind of contextual reporting.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog wonders whether UCSD needs to become the sixth UC campus with a law school.
  • The U-T has a disturbing update about a story we’ve long followed. Last year, activists celebrated the cleanup of the former site of a company in Tijuana’s Mesa de Otay Industrial Park — Metales y Derivados, which for years had recycled American car batteries. The Mexican government, along with support from the United States, finally reclaimed the toxic area. But some of the waste was trucked up to a Kettleman City dump in California. And that site is now at the center of a public health controversy of its own.
  • The U-T also checked in on the city’s upcoming decision of whether to renew the strong mayor form of government. The paper included an interesting perspective from Council President Ben Hueso who said the proposal to add another council district — which accompanies the renewal of the strong mayor system — might be unaffordable. To bring you up to speed on this topic, we did a San Diego Explained segment about it a couple of weeks ago.
  • San Diego Explained runs every Tuesday during the 6 p.m. newscast of NBC 7/39.

And finally:

  • Saturday’s Weekend Report flubbed a reference to a story on our site about San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. He said health benefits are guaranteed for retired city workers. He wasn’t referring to current employees. We apologize.
  • Take a minute to check out that special report on the county’s social services. And remember that you’re invited to our 5th anniversary fiesta Wednesday evening. You can come talk to us about the series or anything we’re doing. We’ll have a lot of margaritas, courtesy of a clever sponsor, and some food.

— staff

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.