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San Diego County still ranks last in the country for enrolling eligible residents in the food stamps program, but the participation rate has increased, according to a new report released last week.

San Diego County enrolled 40 percent of eligible people in food stamps in 2008, the lowest of 22 urban areas surveyed by the Food Research and Action Center.

That’s up from the 35 percent of eligible residents the county enrolled in food stamps in 2007, which was also the lowest nationwide in the center’s survey.

By not enrolling more eligible people in the program, the county left about $106 million in federal funds on the table in 2008, according to the report.

This month, County Supervisors Greg Cox and Ron Roberts highlighted steps the county is taking to improve the food stamps program, saying that food stamp participation increased more than 60 percent since April 2009.

A year ago today, our Out of Reach special report highlighted how the county government’s historical resistance to provide those programs has left a gap between social welfare programs and eligible residents that is starker in San Diego than in any other major California county.

Here’s a little on how we described their response to our findings:

County officials reject the idea of comparing themselves to other places, saying they only track their performance over time. They said they know they can always do better and noted that food stamps participation has grown significantly in the last year. But it’s too early to tell if that’s a function of the recession or if new outreach efforts are paying off.

They hypothesize that San Diego’s demographics — impacted by immigration, the military, the county’s large college campuses and tribal areas — complicate comparing the county to others. Officials offered no numbers to quantify that impact.

I’m the web editor at voiceofsandiego.org. I’ve also done some writing, including the Out of Reach series. Want to chat? Email me at dagny.salas@voiceofsandiego.org or call me at 619.550.5669. I’m on Twitter too: twitter.com/dagnysalas.

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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