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CURRENT ISSUE:  February 22, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Clergy sex abuse: Irish bishops admonished to repair failure of leadership
CCEB expanding Food Stamp Outreach

To help narrow the gap between the rising number of low-income people in Alameda and Contra Costa counties who are eligible for food stamps and those who are actually getting them, Catholic Charities of the East Bay is expanding its Food Stamp Outreach Program.

Who qualifies for food stamps?

California’s Food Stamp Program, funded by the U.S. De--partment of Agriculture, helps supplement the food budgets of low-income individuals and families. Eligibility is based on income, citizenship and other household circumstances, including:

• Income must fall below the program’s income guidelines to qualify for food stamps. Recipients are not automatically disqualified for having a job or receiving other benefits like unemployment. However, those who receive Supplemental Security Income are ineligible.

• A household may have up to $2,000 in assets and still get food stamps. Some assets like a home, car and other personal property do not count toward that amount. Households with seniors or people with disabilities can have up to $3,000 in assets.

• Homeless people are eligible for food stamps even if they do not have a mailing address or if they live in a shelter that provides food.

• Citizens and some legal non-citizens are eligible for food stamps. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible, but household members born in the United States might qualify. Applying for food stamps will not hurt chances of becoming a citizen.

• Applicants must have a Social Security Number or apply for one.
For information, www.dss.cahwnet.gov/foodstamps or Catholic Charities of the East Bay, Contra Costa County: Vicky Lizarraga (925) 270-1958. Alameda County: Thanh Le or Betty Blackmore Gee (510) 768-3100.
With new funding, CCEB is increasing efforts to reach struggling individuals and families who might qualify for food stamp benefits and helping them file the requisite paperwork, said Michael Radding, CCEB director of programs.

CCEB has hired a third outreach worker, who speaks Vietnamese, to help bring literature to the community and pre-screen applicants, he said.

Eligibility under the California Food Stamp Program—meant to supplement food budgets—is based on income, citizenship and other household circumstances. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds California’s program through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, reports that only about half of eligible Californians are taking advantage of food stamp benefits.

Vicky Lizarraga, CCEB’s food stamp outreach worker for residents of Contra Costa County, said that’s because many people do not know they are eligible and others are deterred by language barriers, a lack of access to information and citizenship concerns.

“People don’t know to apply for food stamps or they don’t apply. They miss a chance . . . . That’s why we are in the picture,” she said.

Lizarraga has seen a rise in applications from the newly jobless and recently evicted. “Some of them used to work 40 hours, now they’re working 30 or 20,” she said. With food stamps, “they can at least put food on their tables and still . . . pay their rent,” she said.

She has been handing out information about food stamps at parishes, school PTA meetings and other events, as well as giving workshops to other referring network providers.

Since September, Lizarraga has pre-screened 250 people, reviewing documents like pay stubs, rent checks, utility bills and other proof of income to see whether they meet the initial threshold to qualify for benefits.

If so, Lizarraga said, she helps fill out the sometimes-complicated application and mails or delivers it to the county. It is the county, she stressed, which determines whether a person is eligible for food stamps and the amount to be awarded.

Lizarraga said she has had success stories, like the family who thanked her for bringing information to their parish because they couldn’t afford to get to her office. “They told me, ‘We only had a few dollars in our pocket so we had to decide whether to purchase the gas to go to your office or buy food,’” Lizarraga said. “Now they are getting $380 in food stamps (per month).”

Most eligible families get at least $100 per month in benefits, she said.

Lizarraga stressed that eligibility guidelines change yearly, and some requirements differ for the homeless, non-citizens, children, the elderly and the disabled. She also emphasized that translators are available and applications are printed in 20 languages.

Lizarraga said citizenship applications will not be affected by applying for food stamps.

Radding said the outreach funding is coordinated through Catholic Charities of California and the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

The food stamp program helps CCEB provide immediate assistance to clients while helping them maintain their self-sufficiency, he said. “It’s hard for someone to advance in a job or for kids to do well in school if they aren’t getting their basic food needs met,” Radding said.

The program is open to everyone. In Contra Costa County, contact Lizarraga at (925) 270-1958. In Alameda County, contact Thanh Le or Betty Blackmore Gee at (510) 768-3100.

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