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Study finds problems with food stamps: County tries to draw more people to program

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Monday, October 04, 2004 - HAYWARD -- Safeway deli worker Angelina Ortiz can relate to customers who almost shamefully proffer their food stamp card to pay for their groceries.

"I know how it feels. I felt that way, too," said Ortiz, a Hayward mother of three who, while on disability, was part of the federal food stamp program.

But it's not as embarrassing now that the old-fashioned food stamp coupons have been replaced by something resembling a credit card, she said, illuminating one of the findings of a county survey released last week.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank, which administers the food stamp program, recently undertook a study to figure out why 50 percent of those households eligible for the program in California aren't participating.

That percentage, which has gone up since the late 1990s, was especially puzzling for local officials because poverty is increasing, said Jessica Bartho-

low, the food bank's director of education and outreach.

So the food bank decided to find out what the program's barriers might be through interviews conducted this spring and summer of 103 people who had applied for the food stamp program in the six months prior.

The survey showed that people have some inaccurate perceptions of the food stamp program. The food bank now plans to focus on dispelling those myths. One such effort was a workshop held Thursday in conjunction with the Alameda County Social Services Department to train hunger relief agency workers on the food stamp program.

"Alameda County needs your help," workshop facilitator Julia Martinez told the participants. "We know there are people out there. We want them to get on food stamps."

In the meantime, Bartholow added, states such as Hawaii, which have 100 percent participation in the program among those eligible, are bringing a larger share of money into their state. The food stamp program brings $47 million into Alameda County each year, she said. If all of those eligible participate, that number could double.

San Leandro resident Mychal Davidson said she spends her food stamp money very frugally by going to local dollar stores.

"I've got a lot of people to feed," said the mother of three.

For a free food stamp pre-screening over the phone, or for more information, call (800) 870-3663.

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