Food banks feel the burden unused federal funds

January 31, 2011 6:53:05 PM PST
California is among the worst in the nation when it comes to tapping into federal funding to help feed those in need. That fact is putting an extra burden on already overtaxed food banks. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, was in Santa Clara County on Monday and talking with food bank leaders and getting a tour of a mobile food bank van that is reaching out to those in need.

The USDA's latest figures show 4.2 million Californians qualify for the federally funded SNAP program, more commonly known as food stamps. Only 48 percent of those eligible actually apply for the money leaving an estimated $4.9 billion in funding on the table.

Lofgren says California's 13 page application process that requires fingerprinting is part of the problem.

"Most states don't do it like California does and so not only are individuals in need of help losing money, the state is losing money," she said.

Second Harvest Food Bank CEO Kathy Jackson says there is a domino effect with people not getting federal help and relying on local food banks for their food needs.

"We're using our food to feed people who could get food from other sources, which means then that many other people can't benefit from the food we provide," she said.

Lofgren hopes newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown will support efforts to simplify the state's food stamp application process, but until that time, food banks are taking action. Second Harvest has recently launched a mobile van to go out into communities to provide them with information about what it takes to qualify for food stamps and how to apply.

Mayra Tapia is a food stamp outreach coordinator and says the van is extremely helpful in reaching the working poor and those that don't have transportation.

"Eventually we will be able to conduct a phone interview so they will not have to go down to social services," she said.