The California SNAP EBT card - also known as Food Stamps

The following is taken from the report compiled by Etan Newman, Emerson National Hunger Fellow for Second Harvest Food Bank, 2009 – 2010.


  • Only 48% of eligible Californians participate in the Food Stamp Program (SNAP).
  • California has the lowest participation rate of any state besides Wyoming.
  • Only 18% of income-eligible San Mateo County residents and only 39% of income-eligible Santa Clara County residents actually receive Food Stamps.
  • Nearly 200,000 income-eligible people in both counties are missing out on needed food resources through the Food Stamp Program, which has been proven to increase nutrition and health and decrease food insecurity.
  • The two counties are collectively losing out on $325 million in potential local economic benefit from the federally-funded program.


  • 40 interviews with Second Harvest Food Bank’s partner agencies (soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, etc.)
  • 400 surveys of Food Bank food recipients at distribution sites
  • Meetings with county Food Stamp eligibility workers, supervisors, and managers


  • Many eligible people don’t know about the program or how to apply
  • Low-literacy levels make it hard for some to read outreach materials or fill out the application
  • Providing personal documents to verify income, residency, rent, utilities, bank account information, etc. is onerous and invasive
  • Rumors that Food Stamp recipients will have to pay the benefits back, or that participants’ children will have to go to the military, plague immigrant communities
  • Some areas (San Mateo County Coastside, South Santa Clara County) are isolated and residents may have trouble getting to the Food Stamp office for an interview
  • The stigma of receiving government assistance is compounded by California’s finger-imaging requirement

“The Food Stamp application form was easy, but getting all my documents together took months because of my disability. They ask for so much!”
-San Carlos, CA resident

RECOMMENDATIONS – For USDA, State, Counties, and Local Partners

  • Reduce paperwork by reducing the verification documents required and moving California to a semi-annual reporting. This will both help more people in need get benefits and reduce administrative costs.
  • Expand out-of-office application capabilities such as phone interviews, online applications, etc.
  • Eliminate the finger-imaging requirement – California is one of only four states that mandate this outdated and expensive requirement as a tactic for fraud-prevention. Every other state prevents fraud using other methods such as DMV records or Social Security numbers.
  • Increase outreach using non-print media such as radio, TV, and other methods that can reach communities with low-literacy.
  • Train Food Bank partner agencies in application assistance so they can help eligible clients who come in for housing, employment, food, and other needs gain access to Food Stamps.

Data in this section from USDA, Reaching Those in Need (2009), and California Food Policy Advocates, Lost Dollars, Empty Plates (2009),