The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as the Food Stamp Program, is a federal program that provides assistance to low- and no-income people and families. Administered by the state and implemented by the county of San Diego, it is one of many important tools in helping alleviate hunger in our communities.

SNAP has a rich history in its 70 years. In 1939, the U.S. created the first Food Stamp Program to help feed undernourished individuals. In the subsequent years, future Congresses and administrations would continue to authorize and improve this important program.

I was pleased to support the reauthorization in 2008. The bipartisan vote increased funding to the program by more than $10 billion, and in an effort to fight stigma, changed its name to SNAP. Most importantly however, the new bill institutionalized the priority of the program at “strengthening integrity; simplifying administration; maintaining state flexibility; improving health through nutrition education; and improving access.”

In the past several months I have watched with great concern as our local media, including, has reported that SNAP is being underutilized in San Diego County. These reports and subsequent meetings with hunger advocates have troubled me. In response, I sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture urging a review of the program.

Just recently, the USDA released a report of that review. The report highlighted many of the concerns echoed from advocates and media reports: wait times for the program are too long, the application process is unclear and that home searches discourage many eligible participants.

A number of recommendations were made in the review. Many of the recommendations merit a closer look at implementing to make the program more effective.

To reduce multiple trips to the office and long waits, the county should seriously look into increasing the use of the face-to-face interview waiver and reducing the verification requirements, and streamlining the process once clients are in the office. Create a point person to handle applications that are mailed or placed in a drop box to cut down on lost applications. SNAP supervisors should establish employment standards for their workers.

While the employees at the office’s call center were friendly and helpful, the call center lacked sufficient phone lines and had many dropped calls.

We should look at other counties’ and states’ offices to see what they are doing that is most effective. We could start with the county’s Refugee Assistance Program, which was cited as a possible model for the whole system.

It has been estimated that for every $1 in food stamps that comes into a community, approximately $1.73 in economic activity is generated to the local economy. It has also been estimated that of the 24 largest metropolitan areas in the country, San Diego County ranks the lowest in SNAP participation. This translates to an estimated $40 million in lost benefits and about $70 million in lost economic activity.

But just as important as those numbers are, the real number that we should be focusing on is the number of qualified families who cannot provide enough food for themselves and their families. No one should go hungry in our great nation and no one should feel ashamed to ask for help. With this report we now can come together as a community to improve and strengthen this invaluable program.

U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, represents California’s 53rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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