Marin is failing to harvest $21.6 million annually in federal funds that could be used to feed the county’s hungry, according to food bank officials.
Paul Ash, director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, told the Board of Supervisors this week that Marin’s poorest residents are missing an estimated 11 million meals per year, despite millions in CalFresh dollars available to help meet the need. The CalFresh program was formerly known as Food Stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program on the federal level.
Ash was feted by supervisors as they celebrated the five-year anniversary of the successful merger of the Marin Food Bank with the San Francisco Food Bank.
“I will say there is a lot more work to be done,” he told supervisors.
Ash’s missed-meals estimate comes from a report that the Food Bank prepares annually.
The analysis first estimates the number of meals required each year to feed Marin residents whose household income falls below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. A single individual earning $23,540 a year or less falls into that category, as does a family of four earning $48,500 a year or less. CalFresh recipients’ gross income cannot exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were approximately 49,300 Marin residents, 19 percent of the county’s population, living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level in 2014.
To estimate how many meals a year low-income Marin residents are missing, Food Bank analysts first assumed that each of these 49,300 residents need to eat three meals a day, which means they require 53.9 million meals a year. They estimated that residents with this income could afford to buy about 27.9 million meals themselves. In addition to that they estimated that government assistance would provide an additional 9.2 million meals and that nonprofits, such as the Food Bank, supply another 5.7 million annually. That leaves about 11 million unaccounted for.
According to California Food Policy Advocates, an Oakland-based policy and advocacy group, only three states — North Dakota, Wyoming and Utah — do a worse job than California getting residents eligible for CalFresh signed up for the program. As a result, California misses out on $5 billion in federal funding annually, Ash said. And among California’s 58 counties, Marin ranks 55th — only Modoc, Napa and Mono counties do a poorer job.
Ash said states that have been successful getting people signed up for federal food assistance have taken a more centralized approach than California, which has each county develop its own program.
“What we’re doing here in California is building a state-level system for each county,” Ash said. “Whereas in a state like Oregon they have one computer system, they have one form, they’ve highly engineered the process of signing up. It would be the difference between the standard 17-page CalFresh application and making an order on Amazon with a few clicks.”
Ash said California also needs to try harder to sign people up for more than one assistance program at a time. He said more successful states “try to make every touch an opportunity to try to get clients to all the services they may be eligible for.”
Ash suspects the failure to focus on this dual approach is one reason why Marin’s utilization rate is so low.
He said outreach is also important. In San Francisco, the health department has secured grants to station health care workers outside the CalFresh office. In Marin, the Food Bank has used grant money to mount its own effort to get people signed up for CalFresh.
“We can’t sign people up for the program,” Ash said. “But we can help them with the application because the application tends to be confusing and difficult to complete.”
Kari Beuerman, the county of Marin’s social services director, said an effort was made to get Marin residents to sign up for CalFresh when the county was seeking to register people for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Beuerman said that wasn’t always successful. She said the number of people covered by Medi-Cal in Marin, is much higher than the 10,000 registered for CalFresh.
“I think some people feel that it is not worth their while because the amount of assistance they’re going to get is so small,” Beuerman said. “It can be quite low if somebody is barely in that threshold of qualifying. It really depends on the person and their financial circumstances and their household size.”
Beuerman said the biggest hurdle seems to be the stigma attached to the program, especially for older potential recipients.
“Seniors are especially reluctant to accept what they think is welfare,” Beuerman said.
Ash said CalFresh typically provides about $6 a day per recipient and is critical to bridging the gap between what the Food Bank can provide and what low-income Marin residents need.
“We’re not able to give people all the food they need to eat,” he said. “It’s families that get both kinds of assistance that are more likely to be successful feeding themselves and not missing meals.”
Article originally published by the Marin Independent Journal, July 15th, 2016
Written by Richard Halstead
Read the original article here.