Statement: “In the last two years we’ve (had) a 65 percent increase, and from November to December last year, in one month, we saw a 9 percent increase,” county Supervisor Ron Roberts said in an interview with KPBS Feb. 6.

Determination: False

Analysis: Roberts appeared on KPBS last week to preview his State of the County address and provide an update on efforts to expand the county’s food stamps program.

County leaders have come under intense scrutiny in recent years because advocates for the poor say the county doesn’t provide social services to enough people. One survey, for example, consistently ranks San Diego last in the nation among metro counties in providing food stamps to eligible people. And it fell at or near the bottom for connecting the poor with several key aid programs beyond simply food stamps.

County leaders have approved several proposals aimed at making the benefits more accessible. On KPBS, Roberts said the county has hired more employees and created new systems to grow food stamps participation, and cited a couple statistics to back it up.

“In the last two years we’ve (had) a 65 percent increase, and from November to December last year, in one month, we saw a 9 percent increase,” Roberts said. “We’re not at the end but we’re clearly going in the right direction.”

Nick Macchione, director of the county’s Health of Human Services Agency, cited similar figures in May last year to describe the program’s growth. At the time, the data supported his claim that food stamps participation had increased by 70 percent. I wondered whether that pace of expansion has continued through this week and the data also supports Roberts’ figures.

In fact, it doesn’t.

Roberts’ two-year comparison is long outdated and his one-month comparison is inflated. Though enrollment has continued to climb since Macchione made a similar claim, the rate of growth has slowed substantially.

The graphic below encompasses the county’s most recent available data and illustrates a two-year comparison for each month. It’s unclear why the rate has slowed precipitously since late 2010. Reached last week, a spokeswoman for the county’s Health and Human Services Agency only said it coincided with a decrease in unemployment.

The county’s most recent data shows 245,000 people are enrolled in the food stamps program — 43 percent more than two years ago. By saying 65 percent, Roberts essentially overstated the increase by more than 30,000 people.

Between November and December last year, the number of people enrolled in the program grew by .9 percent — not 9 percent as Roberts claimed. In recent years, the number of people has never spiked by more than 3.3 percent in one month.

Through a spokesman, Roberts acknowledged Thursday that the statistics he cited on KPBS were inaccurate. He hadn’t checked for an updated figure on the two-year comparison and missed the decimal place on the one-month comparison.

“He goofed up,” spokesman Tim McClain said.

Because Roberts’ statistics don’t accurately represent how participation in the food stamps program has changed over time, we’ve rated it False.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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