Image: trueStatement: “In the past two years, we saw an unprecedented increase of almost 70 percent” in food stamp recipients, Nick Macchione, director of the county Health and Human Services Agency, said at a March 15 county supervisors meeting.

Determination: True

Analysis: For three years, San Diego County has ranked last in the country for enrolling people in a program that provides food stamps to the poor. It enrolled eligible residents less often in 2006, 2007 and 2008 than every other urban area surveyed by the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. The county left millions in federal funding on the table and poor people outside the government’s safety net.

The findings added to mounting criticism of the county’s approach toward social services and became political ammunition against the supervisors in last year’s board races, where two faced run-off elections. Both supervisors prevailed in November and have since approved several reforms of the food stamps program, formally called CalFresh.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors approved another reform, allowing recipients to use food stamps for healthy meals at approved restaurants. Macchione, who oversees the program, introduced the proposal at the meeting and recommended its approval after touting greater participation.

In the past two years, the number of San Diego County residents enrolled in the food stamps program has increased by almost 70 percent, he said. We checked out the most recent participation reports and in fact, Macchione’s description slightly downplayed the increase.

As of February, the county had 218,000 people enrolled in the program — a 74 percent increase from two years earlier, according to county reports.

Macchione attributed the climb to the economic slump, improved services and better outreach. While those factors are difficult to quantify, more applications have definitely contributed to at least part of the increase.

San Diego County officials have reported a steeper rise in applications than most other counties in California. Statewide, officials received 22 percent more applications in January this year compared to two years ago. In San Diego County, 62 percent more applications came in.

But one comparison between San Diego County and other localities hasn’t changed. It still approves applications for food stamps less often than others in the state. The county approved 29 percent of pending applications in January this year while statewide, officials approved 41 percent.

Regardless, Macchione’s description came close to accurately reflecting the two-year change in participation, so we’ve called it True. If you disagree with our determination or rating, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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