Food stamps next victim of budget crisis

February 13, 2009 7:51:45 PM PST
Even if a state budget agreement is reached this week, counties expect their flow of money from the state for many social service programs will be cut off, at least temporarily, starting this Friday. That is when Controller John Chiang plans to begin sending out IOU's instead of checks.

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Food stamps are federal program, but the staff to administer it at the county level is paid for by the state of California.

In Contra Costa County, as the housing crisis deepens, the requests for food stamps grow -- 30 percent in the past year.

Right now, a family may have to wait several weeks for an appointment, just to apply for the program.

"The demand is way up," director of the Contra Costa Employment and Human Services Department Joe Valentine said. "In the month of January, we had 60 percent more people come into our offices than had in previous months."

Come Friday, if Gov. Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers do not finalize a budget agreement, the Chiang will start issuing IOU's instead of checks to counties.

If the state does start issuing IOU's this week, Contra Costa County would run out of money to administer its food stamp and other programs in about a month.

"That would be a major problem for me and my family," food stamp recipient Chana Hughes said. Hughes relies on food stamps to feed herself and her two young children. "An IOU isn't going to put food on the table, we need food."

"The people who need these services the most are going to be cut out of the system," supervisor John Gioia said.

If there is no budget agreement soon, Gioia said, counties are preparing to file a lawsuit against the state to keep the money flowing.

"We're also looking at whether to hold back some of our own property tax dollars to the state as leverage on this issue," Gioia said.

While the political battle drags on, the people could be left with nothing.

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