Just 9.3 percent of the state population was receiving food stamps in August, way lower than the 14.3 percent national average. And it's not because California has fewer needy residents. Despite an increase in participation during the recession, nearly 3 million people are eligible but do not sign up. That means a loss of $3.7 billion in federal dollars - and with it the loss of nearly $7 billion worth of local economic activity. It's not a new problem - low participation has plagued the program in California for years. But why aren't folks signing up? From the LAT
Welfare offices are overwhelmed by demand and cannot afford the staff to cope, said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Assn. That leads to frustrating delays for applicants. At some Los Angeles offices, lines often stretch out the door. Applicants complain that they can't get through by telephone and have to wait hours to see a social worker. Some are told to come back with pay stubs, doctors' notes and other documents to show they meet complex income, savings, work and immigration requirements.
Many of those who steer clear of the program are immigrants. California is home to the nation's largest foreign-born population, many of whom don't realize that they can apply if they have lived in the United States legally for five years, community advocates say. Others are put off by rumors that there could be repercussions to receiving the benefit, or they struggle to complete the paperwork.
As of August, Washington, D.C. had the largest share of residents receiving food stamps, at 21.1 percent. Wyoming had the lowest, at 6.5 percent. Only five states have lower participation levels than California.