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Only Half Of Eligible Calif. Residents Use Food Stamps

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Only half of eligible California residents got food stamps in 2008, below the national average of 66 percent, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

The estimates from the Department of Agriculture show California’s participation rate was up two points from 2007 but was second to last among U.S. states, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Maine has the highest participation rate, at 94 percent of eligible residents. Only Wyoming’s rate was lower, at 46 percent.

State officials say the report is based on outdated census data and the figures should be calculated differently.

“The information is based on 2008 data, which is three years old, and it doesn’t reflect the impact of some of the recent program changes that were made to increase the access of needy eligible families and adults,” said Maricela Rodriguez, Department of Social Services spokeswoman.

According to the latest state data from October 2010, more than 3.5 million Californians got food stamps, up 46 percent from October 2008. However, the number of people who qualify also increased.

State officials say the figures should include about 1.2 million elderly and disabled people who get extra state money added to their federal Supplemental Security Income instead of food stamps. The report’s authors say they didn’t include those people in the number of eligible residents.

The Department of Agriculture has urged California to simplify the program’s administrative requirements. The federal government pays for the benefit and half administrative costs, with the rest shared between the state and counties.

California is the only state to require food stamp recipients to report their income every three months. Federal officials say reporting twice a year cuts the workload and prevents clerical mistakes that can cause people to lose their benefits.

California also requires applicants to be fingerprinted.

Sylmar Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes has introduced a bill to eliminate the fingerprint requirement and reduce income reporting. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar bills. Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t said if he would support changes to the program.

Advocates for the poor said the state and counties need to do more to enroll needy families and individuals.

“There has been some progress in increasing the program’s visibility, but not nearly enough progress at simplifying the application” process, said Matthew Sharp with California Food Policy Advocates.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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