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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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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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Lee goes on SNAP diet, will screen hunger film

With more than $20 billion in cuts proposed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as Food Stamps – in the 2014 Farm Bill, Rep. Barbara Lee is leading two dozen House members in a “SNAP Challenge,” living on the $4.50 per day food budget of an average SNAP recipient.

Lee, D-Oakland, issued a news release calling the proposed cuts “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

“When I was a young, single mother, I was on public assistance, and I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the vital lifeline that the American people extended to me,” she said. “SNAP is the difference between food on the table and a child going to bed hungry. I’m so encouraged by all my colleagues who are joining me for the SNAP Challenge, and I encourage folks from across the country to get engaged and join the chorus voicing opposition to these outrageous cuts.”

Lawmakers are updating the public on the challenges of eating on $4.50 by Tweeting at #SNAPchallenge. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, is also taking part, and said, “We need Congress to understand what these cruel austerity measures mean on a personal level rather than a generic statistical sample.”

So Lee might be rather hungry tomorrow as she joins director Lori Silverbush for a free screening of the film, “A Place at the Table,” in 1 p.m. at the Oakland Museum of California, at 1000 Oak St. An official Sundance film festival selection, the movie brings millions of Americans’ experience of hunger into stark focus through the stories of three individuals living with food insecurity.

Lee and Silverbush will take part in a panel discussion after the screening, joined by Alameda County Community Food Bank Executive Director Suzan Bateson; Community Food and Justice Coalition Executive Director Y. Armando Nieto; and Alameda County Social Services Agency Director Lori Cox.

“With nearly 46 million people living in poverty in our nation and 173,000 in poverty in Alameda Country alone, it is far past time to address poverty and hunger,” Lee said.

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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.”