Why Millions of Californians Eligible for Food Stamps Don’t Get Them

Millions of low-income Californians eligible for food stamps are not receiving the benefit, earning the state one of the lowest rankings in the nation for its participation in the program.

Just three states — Utah, North Dakota and Wyoming — have lower rates of participation, according to the latest available federal data released this year. Meanwhile, California is among the leaders on enrollment in Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, which also serves people living in low-income households.

The reasons for California’s low food stamp participation rate remain a “persistent puzzle,” says Kim McCoy Wade, chief of the CalFresh branch of the state’s Department of Social Services. But she and others suggest historically poor customer service and a bulky bureaucracy have something to do with it.

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