According to a new federal report compiled by Mathematica Policy Research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, California ranks second to last in food stamp benefit participation with only half of eligible residents taking advantage of the program. Compare that with an average participation rate of 66 percent nationwide. In an attempt to expand the food stamp program, the USDA is calling on California to simplify its enrollment requirements for food stamp benefits, a move which not-so-secretly benefits the banks which profit off of each food stamp transaction.
Responding to the report, state officials said that the USDA was relying on old data and its survey procedures were skewed to not count beneficiaries of Supplemental Security Income. SSI beneficiaries in California, who also qualify for food stamps, are offered, through a matching state grant, cash assistance for food in lieu of traditional food stamps.
Maricela Rodriguez, speaking for the California Department of Social Services, told the Los Angeles Times that in addition to not counting every food stamp beneficiary, the three-year-old data which the USDA was utilizing for its study doesn't reflect the impact of some of the recent program changes that were made to increase access to benefits.
The expansion of the food stamp market has roused an interestingly framed public debate which promises to intensify in direct proportion to the state's seemingly perpetual budget dilemma. I have some questions for those on both sides: isn't the privatization of the welfare state more intriguing than, well, the size of the supposed welfare state? Does the former condition have an effect on the latter? Let's start talking about who ultimately gains from the USDA's newest proposal to put more JP Morgan EBT cards to use.
About 43 million American families rely on food stamps to put food on the table. JPMorgan Chase is the largest processor of food stamp benefits in the United States. The bank is paid per customer. With a contract to provide food stamp debit cards in 26 states and the District of Columbia, it's no wonder that JPMC is making record breaking profits and handing out record bonuses during an economic depression. Furthermore, JPMC is doing its part to add to U.S. unemployment by outsourcing the servicing of many of these state contracts to India.
Because of stricter standards, it's been hard for JPMC to gain the business it desires in California's welfare industry. First of all, California is one of a handful of states which requires its food stamp beneficiaries to be fingerprinted to cut down on fraud. Second, the golden state stands alone in its requirement for most food stamp recipients to report their income every three months, rather than the six-month term standard in most other states. Assembly member Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) has introduced a bill that would raze both of these stumbling blocks. AB 6 would end the fingerprint requirement and reduce income reporting. While the former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation, Gov. Jerry Brown has not indicated whether he would support changes to the food stamp program, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
The most recent state data available indicates that more than 3.5 million Californians received food stamps in October 2010. This is nearly 46% more than in October 2008. Keep in mind that the number of eligible residents also has increased.
The USDA's report, Reaching Those in Need: State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates in 2008, can be viewed here.