They’re Not Called Food Stamps Anymore

by Kay Lynn

The state of California is on a mission to increase utilization of food stamps.    Even though the unemployment rate is over 12%, only one state has a lower participation rate in the federal program than the Golden State.

Less than half of the eligible residents are participating in the current nutrition program for several reasons.  One factor is the stigma of being on “food stamps”.  The name is outdated  because there aren’t any stamps.  Benefits are delivered to an electronic benefits card similar to a debit card.

These factors led the social services department to conduct a lot of testing and research to come up with the new name….Calfresh.  We renamed Medicaid to Med-Cal so I guess it makes sense.

The state received $150,000 from the California Endowment Fund to develop the name and branding and another $5,000 in federal funds to pay for new brochures.  However, increased use of the benefits will mean more money for the state of California.

How?  Well, apparently every dollar of benefits results in $1.84 of economic activity. People can now spend that money on taxable goods instead of non-taxed food items.  I know from experience the state is trying to increase tax revenues any way it can with our budget woes.

I am glad that low-income people have access to the same healthy food I eat.  I’m not so sure about having to campaign for them to take advantage of it.

What do you think about the state encouraging eligible people to apply for the federal nutrition program?

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First Gen American October 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm

The state is encouraging people to take handouts? No wonder they’re broke.

There should be a stigma with taking handouts. My mom qualified for all kinds of things and she even qualifies for heating assistance now. She never took one penny (with the exception of collecting unemployment for the few weeks she was eligible).

So what you’re saying is that $1 of my tax money going into food stamps is yielding $1.84 in spending on other stuff. Let’s say there’s a 10% sales tax. So they’re giving $1 to get 20 cents back?

Who’s the brilliant mathematician that came up with this policy?

Kay Lynn October 26, 2010 at 5:19 am

To be fair, the funds for food stamps comes from the federal government. So, it’s a win-win for the state to promote them.

First Gen American October 26, 2010 at 9:32 am

Well, since I pay state and federal taxes I still have an issue California trying to promote people taking handouts. It’s still coming out of my pocket.

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:26 pm

That is true; we’re all paying for it. But I’m a believer in getting food to those in need.

Money Reasons October 27, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I agree with First Gen American!

California needs to get it’s fiscal house in order! It’s a great beautiful state, but the government is way too liberal for my taste!

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Money Reasons, being a liberal state isn’t our problem :). I think that helps us influence other parts of the country socially and economically (Silicone Valley?).

First Gen American October 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm

To make it even worse, that $1 in food stamp money doesn’t even include the administrative costs of operating the food stamp money. Talk about robbing peter to pay paul.

retirebyforty October 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Seems kind of silly to be spending money on any promotional scheme this year. If the state has a huge budget problem, they should cut back for now. I don’t live in CA, but I just voted no on pretty much any new tax this year, except library bond.

Kay Lynn October 26, 2010 at 5:20 am

I will be filling out my ballot tonight to get it in the mail. I’m not in the mood to vote for any new taxes either!

Mike January 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm

CA didn’t pay for it. Grants paid for the new look…

[email protected] October 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

California usually has a divergent outlook on government. This seems to be another example. If people aren’t using the program, maybe the program isn’t needed. I say call a spade a spade and let folks participate if they want/need to. The requirements are so stringent to be eligible for food stamps that anyone who qualifies no doubt really needs the support. But once you qualify for food stamps you also are typically qualified for a bunch of other programs. I wonder what participation rates the rest of the states have?

Kay Lynn October 26, 2010 at 5:21 am

Apparently, only Wyoming’s is lower. There’s hardly any people there!

I think people need it here; our cost of living is very high and there are tons of low-paying jobs. My thought is with the diversity in the state there is stigma amongst the other cultures/ethnic groups.

Kevin @ October 25, 2010 at 9:11 pm

I’ve seen this before where people who don’t take government assistance offered to them are seen as “stupid” or “uninformed”.

I applaud Californians taking it upon themselves to provide food for themselves without relying on government assistance.

Kay Lynn October 26, 2010 at 5:22 am

I think they’re finding it at food banks, churches, etc. or just not eating well.

Donna Freedman October 25, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Pay now or pay later — keeping the unemployed/working poor reasonably nourished can help keep them out of the emergency room. We’ll pay for that, too.
The above is me being somewhat sarcastic. But there’s a degree of truth there as well.
I’d like to bring up the idea that people should be fed because they’re HUNGRY. Because there’s NEED.
Don’t worry about establishing stigma to the assistance programs — it’s already there. But if you’re very lucky, you will never feel it. That is to say, if you’re lucky then you’ll never be in a position to need to ask for help and have a bunch of people second-guessing what the hell’s the matter with you that you’re asking.

Kay Lynn October 26, 2010 at 5:25 am

Donna, like you I have no problem with people getting assistance for food. No one should go hungry in America, but sadly some do.

Mike January 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I was reading about this on in article written by a 44 year old man who was forced to go on food stamps –

As Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward explained in their classic book ”Regulating the Poor,” guilt and shame have long been intentional features of public aid — along with various forms of coerced labor and invasive monitoring — dating back to England’s poor laws of the 16th century, through to today’s much demonized welfare capitalism…

Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

Personally, I would rather not have people starving. We as a society have agreed that it is wrong to abandon the sick and the poor. It was the right decision. We should follow up on it.

Mike January 27, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Oops – Everything from “As Francis…” to “…welfare capitalism…” should be in quotes…

Everyday Tips October 26, 2010 at 6:36 am

I guess I am shocked that people are willingly not signing up for food stamps. I can tell you that people where I live have zero problem with it!

One of the problems in Detroit is that people do not have access to supermarkets. So, even people that do get food stamps do not necessarily get fresh food. They do their shopping at the local party store and end up buying a bunch of convenience foods. It is such a big problem.

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Kris, that’s too bad they don’t have access to grocery stores. I remember that being a problem in Los Angeles years ago and Magic Johnson built a grocery store in a neighborhood that needed one.

Amanda October 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm

California has always seem to me to have a conflicted population. So many people can’t afford to live there (myself included, I moved out of state after 20 years), and yet there’s a certain amount – depending on the person, obviously – of smugness, I feel, that comes with living there. Any kind of stigma coming from something like food stamps would interfere with that self-perception.

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Amanda, I think we feel that we live in paradise because of the weather. It is expensive but we’re the fools that think it’s work paying more to stay here.

ConvertingMe October 27, 2010 at 5:59 am

The USDA changed the official name of the food stamp program over two years ago. The official name is SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It seems to me that many, in my experience working with those (who qualify for services) that many people think that you must be flat broke and destitute to qualify. This is not necessarily true.

Promoting the program is a great idea to counter the myths about the program.

The SNAP program and many others are not a handout program but a bridge program that allows people to maintain their place in the socio-economic spectrum.

I too believe that no one should go hungry.

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Converting, I did read that it was renamed, although that name hasn’t really taken hold in the public’s mind.

Some of the program rules are frustrating. My sister let her son’s family stay with her while getting back on their feet. Even though they were a separate family unit, the state counted my sister and her husband’s income and this disqualified the young couple from assistance.

Janette October 28, 2010 at 2:21 pm

After helping a family member work through the paperwork for unemployment and food assistance- I totally understand. The humiliation and paperwork is unbelievable.
Considering both of us have advanced degrees, how does a person with little education make it through? The only two places I have seen people be helpful with forms was:local elementary schools and the military. Otherwise, if it your first time and easily intimidated,you could easily find that the last thing you want to do with your stress level is apply for help!
Do I think we should help those who are at the bottom- definitely. Should we hire a few of those Americorps people to help in those jobs instead of the people I ran into- absolutely!

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:40 pm

That’s too bad. I think sometimes the employees get numbed by the mass of people they deal with day in and out. Not that it’s an excuse. Unfortunately, government agencies don’t focus on customer service!

Nicole October 29, 2010 at 5:23 am

Anything that gets kids fed without hurting them is good to me. And converting me is absolutely right that there are a lot of myths about the program. And Janette’s experience is true in far too many offices. Some places are fantastic (our local WIC office is incredibly helpful and kind– of course, the people work there are paid so little that they qualify for WIC themselves if they have children under age 5), but some are filled with people on power trips.

For anybody who doesn’t think that there’s no stigma to foodstamps (now SNAP) and that too many people use them already, I strongly encourage them to read the boxcar kids blog from the beginning.

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Nicole, thanks for mentioning that blog. I read it and think it could be so many of us except for luck. I’m glad she’s sharing the story and articulates joblessness so well.

Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom October 30, 2010 at 7:06 am

I’ve been on the “do not eat for 4 days because your kid needs to eat and there isn’t enough money to buy food for both of you” diet but never visited a food bank myself (other than to donate) due to the stigma. I’ve seen other people drive up to the food bank in $40k+ vehicles too, so not all people must feel that stigma.

Having said that, I’ve also audited or worked with a lot of NPO’s and it seems way too much of the budgets go to promotion and not into the services themselves. We don’t have a food stamp program here in Canada, but we do have a good food bank program that doesn’t seem to spend a lot on awareness but are doing pretty well without it with corporate assistance (ongoing food drop-off areas in companies – not just at Christmas).

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Jacq, is the Canadian food bank run by the government?

Some of those people in expensive cars might have lost their jobs and haven’t enough money for food. That’s been common around her with the high unemployment rate (over 12% in California).

Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom October 30, 2010 at 5:19 pm

BB, it`s run by local agencies and then overseen by a government agency – just like Feeding America – they`re part of the same global organization. Apparently 2% of the population uses food banks on a regular basis (which is really so very little) and 37% of those are children – and I think it`s very, very wrong for children to go hungry. Just over 50% of the users are on social assistance of some sort.

Good point on the job loss. We are very fortunate in Canada – especially where I live – to have very little involuntary unemployment. Most people could pick up a job in a day. Yes, it`s only about $12 an hour minimum (I`m talking fast food industry here) but it`s still one of those situations where if you want to work, the work is there. We`re still importing people from foreign countries to take on the work that residents don`t want to do so… I`m not sure what that says.

For myself – and this is just me – I never felt right using services like this. 20 years ago when I was living on $150 per month, I never did it.

And I have done many, many things that I`m not happy to have had to do to make ends meet so that I didn`t have to. But I don`t begrudge it to anyone else that doesn`t have those pride issues going on.

Having said that, I`ve also been the recipient of subsidized daycare while I was going to university – so I may not have used foodbanks or foodstamps, but I have had help from the taxpayer, so may be something of a hypocrite. Hopefully my mid 5-figure tax bills over the last few years have paid something back on that – that`s why I don`t begrudge those high taxes either. 😉

Kay Lynn November 3, 2010 at 6:03 am

So Canada is the place to be if you need a job? I have traveled to Canada on business many times and usually get sent to secondary immigration inspection to determine if I need to buy a work permit.

I don’t because I’m performing contracted services or courtesy visits, but it is annoying to get sent over each time. I would imagine it’s the same for Canadians coming to the U.S. on business!

The Saved Quarter October 30, 2010 at 9:56 am

I’ve written a few times about my family’s experience with SNAP. We didn’t apply for assistance until well after we qualified because of pride and shame. There is most certainly judgment for it it and it held us back, even though we were really struggling. It’s a special kind of soul crushing to hand over your financial life to a stranger, saying, “I work really hard but don’t have enough money to feed my kids.” I think that with so many people in the situation of losing their jobs through no fault of their own these days, stigma about getting assistance that they’ve paid into throughout their working lives isn’t fair or reasonable.

Kay Lynn October 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Saved Quarter, I remember reading those posts, but had forgotten. Thanks for linking to them.

I’m glad you still got the assistance so your family could still get healthy food. Too bad people are so ignorant.

Broke by Choice November 1, 2010 at 10:44 am

If people really need the financial support they will apply regardless of the name. They will not allow a name or pride stand in their way. If their pride is standing in their was, then they have not reached a point where they feel they NEED the support.

Kay Lynn November 3, 2010 at 6:10 am

Broke by Choice, I have fortunately never been in that situation so don’t know. Maybe they’re trying to change the perceptions of the general public?

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