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In our special report Out of Reach this week, we’ve been detailing the wide gaps in San Diego County’s safety net for the poor. If we interviewed you or you’re involved in this system and you’d like to flesh out some issue or root cause or nuance associated with the gaps in San Diego County’s safety net, we’re inviting you to submit a blog post. (No more than 500 words, please.)

Our first commentary comes from John Lucero Criswell, executive director of the San Diego Hunger Coalition.

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I commend the Voice of San Diego for some darn impressive and needed reporting.

While I am confident we will see the eligible participation rate in the food stamp program increase this year, this report only reinforces that the effort must be “all hands on deck,” because the need is acute and the stakes are high.

There are community-based organizations working hard throughout the county to help people enroll in food stamps. And yes, the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, is engaged on that front too. With less staff than one year ago, it is managing a caseload with roughly 37 percent more food stamp program participants and is working to reengineer is systems to be more user-friendly.

Therefore, given the benefits of this powerful nutrition program, I want to encourage those who may be eligible for the program to apply for it. While the application process can be cumbersome, there are community-based organizations that can help. By calling 2-1-1, you can get a referral to one of these organizations or see if you may qualify for the program.

The food stamp program is there for people in times of need — such as our country is facing now — so that they may meet their nutrition needs. People are not “milking” the food stamp program. In fact, fraud has all but been ferreted out of the system — nationally, fraud is well below 2 percent. It is time we turn our obsession from that ghost to the hard fact that this program is what it should be — an emergency nutrition program that helps people not go hungry.

“These people” (who are in the program) are not those of the images we may carry in our imaginations, they are the working poor, children (60 percent of food stamp participants in San Diego County are kids!), seniors and even military personnel. It is time that we change our perceptions to fit the reality, realize the value of this important program and get all hands on deck, so those eligible may access it.

— John Lucero Criswell

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If you’d like to add your voice, ask a question, or share your experiences, please send an e-mail to kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org.

— KELLY BENNETT

Dagny Salas

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.

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