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How shutdown hurts California programs & budget

California won’t take too much of a hit in the short term, but stands to lose a lot if the federal government shutdown lasts more than a brief time, according to the state Department of Finance.

Deputy Director H.D. Palmer said federal funds for unemployment insurance benefits, MediCal, and supplemental security income/state supplementary payment grants for the elderly, blind or disabled will continue uninterrupted.

But while there’s enough money to keep the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly called food stamps – afloat through October for the 1.9 million California households that rely on it, that funding will dry up in November. It’s the same scenario for school nutrition programs that serve 4.5 million meals per day mostly to low-income students. And money for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program will last only through late November. (I’d link to the SNAP and WIC programs, but the shutdown already has affected their web pages.)

“The longer this goes on, the greater uncertainty there will be for funding some of these programs,” Palmer said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, California – home to more federal employees than Washington, D.C., – will see a lot of government workers not drawing paychecks, and thus unable to spend their money in their communities or pay their bills. Communities near national parks such as Yosemite will suffer even more while those parks are shuttered, cutting off the tourist flow.

But the worst of it come if Congress refuses to raise the nation’s debt ceiling by Oct. 17 and the nation defaults on its debt, Palmer said. The resulting financial market instability could decimate the capital gains and stock options on which California depends for a huge chunk of its tax revenue, he said, blowing a big, red hole in a state budget that only recently was brought back into the black.

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Local House Dems decry vote to slash food aid

The House voted 217-210 today for a H.R. 3102, a Republican-backed bill that would effectively strip almost $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

Democrats say more than 4 million Americans will lose their food assistance next year; three-fourths of households receiving SNAP aid include a child, senior or disabled person. Bay Area Democrats spoke out vehemently against the bill.

From the floor speech by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“A couple of weeks ago, I was in Houston, Texas visiting my grandchildren and we were at mass. And the sermon was a beautiful one and the gospel was that day, too. Many of our colleagues have quoted the Gospel of Matthew: ‘When I was hungry, you [fed] me.’ And other parts of the bible, and the Gospel that day was talking about how we have a responsibility to each other. In the sermon, the priest said something that I think we should consider as we consider our vote here today. He said: ‘You just can’t come church and pray on Sunday and go out and prey on people for the rest of the week.’

“This legislation is preying – P-R-E-Y-I-N-G – on people, on children, on veterans, on seniors, on all those who are struggling to do their best in our country. It is our moral obligation to reject this legislation and to preserve these investments that every American needs, for Americans who need them, and other Americans who want them to have it. It is our moral duty to vote down this measure and to work across the aisle in conference on a comprehensive farm bill that ensure food security, supports our farmers and ranchers, and strengthens rural communities.

“Community. That should be the word of the hour. What is the responsibility to our community? It certainly isn’t to say the kids: ‘We want you to do your best in school, but we are not going to fuel your mind by giving you food to eat.’ Or to thank our veterans by depriving them of this [and] our seniors for all that they have done.

“Something is very wrong with this picture. But I know one thing is for sure: every person who votes for this Republican measure is voting to hurt his or her own constituents because we all represent people who at some time need help.”

From Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa:

“This bill is staggeringly out of touch with what the American people want and need. Cuts of this magnitude take food out of the mouths of millions of Americans and doom any hope of compromise on a full five year extension of the Farm Bill. Instead of wasting time on bills like the one offered today by the House Majority, we should be working with the Senate on a compromise bill that is fair to our farmers and ranchers, incentivizes conservation, and protects hard working families, seniors and children from devastating cuts that will cause millions to go hungry.”

From Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton:

“Today the Tea Party and their Republican allies decided to make it harder on people already struggling to put food on the table by passing a bill that cuts $40 billion from nutrition assistance programs over the next ten years. This bill would deny benefits to at least four million low-income Americans, at a time when many Americans are still struggling to find work as we continue to rebound from the Great Recession.

“SNAP is a vital tool to fight hunger and help struggling Americans. In my district, more than 13,000 households receive SNAP benefits. Although there are two million fewer jobs today than in 2007, this extreme Republican bill eliminates nutrition benefits for out-of-work adults even if they live in high unemployment areas and regardless of how hard they are trying to find work.

“Today’s bill is mean-spirited, short-sighted and one I proudly voted against. We should be working together to create jobs and grow the economy, not take food out of the mouths of hungry children.”

From Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael:

“The Tea Party fringe has yet again led the House to approve extreme legislation that will never become law. SNAP is a lifeline for millions of American families who cannot afford to eat without this modest assistance. SNAP keeps food on the table for 47 million Americans. Today’s vote was yet another example of House Republicans doubling down on their cruel austerity diet for America.”

From Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez:

“House Republicans are doubling down on a bad idea. Cutting SNAP will not only increase hunger in America, it will cost the nation jobs in the food industry. Because when poor families don’t have enough to eat, they go without. This isn’t an economic stimulus — it’s a national outrage.

“To add insult to injury, 14 members of Congress have gone so far as to vote to enrich themselves and wealthy special interests with farm subsidies, while voting against benefits to millions of the neediest and most vulnerable Americans. I issued a report earlier this year that detailed these 14 members of Congress who are collectively worth up to $124 million and received at least $7.2 million in farm subsidies but voted to cut nutrition aid for 47 million Americans without batting an eye.

“If the majority really wants to save money on food stamps, let’s raise the minimum wage so taxpayers don’t have to pick up the tab for low wage employers, and let’s pass legislation that puts people back to work. But it’s truly the height of hypocrisy to throw needy families off food stamps while taking farm subsidies for yourself.”

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Bloomberg: Food stamps biggest in red counties

Of the 254 counties in which food-stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, 213 were carried by Republican nominee Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential election, Bloomberg reported this week.

Graphic by Washington Post

(Graphic by Washington Post)

So it seems the heightened need for federal aid to combat hunger is primarily a red-state (or at least red-county) phenomenon. Yet House Republicans recently passed a Farm Bill reauthorization which didn’t include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They’ve said they intend to move a separate bill that would cut $4 billion per year from food stamps and similar programs.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, joined with three other lawmakers this week to release a letter signed by more than 200 House Democrats urging Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to restore SNAP funding to the final Farm Bill.

“We voted against this bill in large part because of this intentional omission,” they wrote. “We strongly believe in the critical importance of SNAP. Given the essential nature of this program to millions of American families, the final language of the Farm Bill or any other legislation related to SNAP must be crafted to ensure that we do not increase hunger in America.”

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Food-stamp bill awaits Gov. Brown’s action

Amid the avalanche of bills now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature or veto is one born here in Oakland that would streamline state food assistance applications to increase the number of kids and families receiving aid.

AB 402 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would let families seeking free and reduced-price school lunches also apply for the CalFresh food stamps program at the same time, on one application.

CalFresh is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is available to people with maximum gross income of 130 percent of the federal poverty level ($28,665 for a family of four) and a net income of 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines, and who have lived in the country for five years; are receiving disability-related benefits; or are children under 18.

The bill was conceived in part at the Alameda County Community Food Bank. The food bank says the adjustments to the application and added processing time would carry minimal costs but could bring enormous benefits to California, which currently ranks second-to-last in food stamp use.

“Although 3.4 million children are now eligible for school meal programs, a large number of these children and their families are not participating in CalFresh,” Skinner was quoted as saying in one of the legislative analyses of the bill. “California loses nearly $5 billion in federal food benefits and $1.7 billion in generated economic activity due to low CalFresh participation rates.”

The food bank estimates Alameda County alone could see an extra $107 million per year in federal funding if the bill becomes law.

The bill’s legislative analyses showed no opponents on record. The Assembly passed AB 402 in June on a 51-24 vote; the state Senate passed it Aug. 22 on a 24-10 vote; and the Assembly concurred with the Senate’s amendments Aug. 25 on a 52-25 vote, sending it to the governor’s desk.

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Swanson: Inmate release bumps food-stamp need

Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding an order that California must release tens of thousands of inmates from its unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons is one more, big, new reason why some ex-cons should be eligible for food stamps, says Assemblyman Sandre Swanson.

Swanson, D-Alameda, is the author of AB 828, the Nutritional Assistance for Families Act, which would let people convicted of certain non-violent, drug-related felonies receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Federal law bars certain former offenders from receiving such benefits, but lets states opt out of the ban; 14 states have eliminated the ban entirely, and 21 have modified it.

The Assembly on Monday voted 46-30 to pass the bill; it now goes to the state Senate.

“Nearly 46,000 prisoners will soon be released into our communities,” Swanson said in a news release. “Whether you are happy with this or not, the fact is that the state is about to absorb a huge population of ex-felons and we must be realistic about how to support them and their families as they attempt to transition back into society. If a person’s most critical needs are not met when they re-enter society after serving time in prison, they won’t have the tools necessary for a successful and safe return. Without basic support, such as food, many of them will return to criminal activity and drug use instead of gainful employment and sobriety.”

“I understand being hard on crime. I stand behind stricter penalties and fines for criminals. However, once a person has successfully served his sentence, he should have tools available to successfully reintegrate.”

Swanson noted California’s recidivism rate is at 70 percent, the nation’s highest, and most Californians would prefer their tax dollars to support education and job creation rather than housing and re-housing the same inmates over and over again.

“California’s restrictive policies are inhibiting its access to federal monies,” he said. “AB 828 will tap into these federal funds, which will ultimately support agriculture, increase sales tax revenue, reduce the state’s recidivism rate, and provide fundamental services to families at a time of dire need. Economists estimate that for every dollar of SNAP funds spent, the local economy receives $1.75 in return. During these times of unprecedented program cuts and joblessness, we cannot leave federal dollars on the table that would ultimately help stimulate our economy and increase public safety by helping communities safely absorb the 46,000 prisoners who may end up living as our neighbors.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two similar bills by Swanson in 2007 and 2008. In the latter veto message, Schwarzenegger wrote that “extending food stamp eligibility to drug dealers or traffickers, upon the condition that they engage in drug treatment, will not ensure these individuals will stop selling or trafficking illegal drugs. Therefore, this bill does not provide a targeted approach to the right population and does not ensure adequate public safety protections.”

Swanson tried again last year, but the bill got held up in the Senate Appropriations suspense file and never made it to a floor vote. As the Assembly OKed it last May, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine – then a GOP primary candidate for U.S. Senate – blasted the idea, saying “(g)iving felony-level drug dealers government funds with no strings attached undermines the very concept of holding them accountable for their actions. With just 12 percent of the nation’s population residing here, California is home to 32 percent of the welfare recipients in the United States. We should be encouraging Californians to become self-reliant, not enlarging the welfare rolls with convicted felons. Each dollar given to drug felons is a dollar that could go to an out of work family with children to care for.”

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Food-stamps-for-felons bill draws DeVore’s ire

An East Bay Assemblyman’s bill to let drug felons get food stamps after their release from prison passed the Assembly floor today, but not without taking some heat from a lawmaker seeking higher office.

The Assembly voted 42-23 to approve AB 1756, the Transitional Assistance for Re-Entry Programs Act, by Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda. Existing federal law permanently bars drug-related felons from receiving food-stamp benefits, but allows states to opt out of the ban through legislative action; that’s what this bill would do. Elsewhere, 14 states have eliminated the ban entirely, and 21 have modified the ban so those with certain drug felony convictions can get food stamps and cash assistance.

Said Swanson:

“California currently spends over $8 billion on prisons, and spending is on track to surpass the higher education budget within the next four years. We cannot begin to address this problem without implementing programs that help former offenders successfully re-enter society.

“If a person’s most critical needs are not met when they re-enter society after being in prison, they won’t be able to successfully return to their communities. In fact, without basic support, many of them will be inclined to return to criminal activity and drug use instead of attaining sobriety and gainful employment. The recidivism rate in California is at an astonishing 70 percent. It is hypocritical for the Legislature to say we are interested in stemming the spiraling prison population while we continue to release prisoners without addressing some of their most basic needs upon re-entry.

“California’s restrictive policies are inhibiting its access to federal monies. AB 1756 will tap into more of these federal funds, which will support agriculture, sales tax revenue, reduce the state’s recidivism rate, and provide fundamental services to families.”

But Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine – a candidate vying for the GOP nomination next month to challenge U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in November – voted and spoke against the bill, calling it Democrats’ most recent attempt to weaken welfare-reform measures signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.

“Giving felony-level drug dealers government funds with no strings attached undermines the very concept of holding them accountable for their actions,” DeVore said in his news release. “With just 12% of the nation’s population residing here, California is home to 32% of the welfare recipients in the United States. We should be encouraging Californians to become self-reliant, not enlarging the welfare rolls with convicted felons. Each dollar given to drug felons is a dollar that could go to an out of work family with children to care for.”

The bill now goes to the state Senate.