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Monday, December 6, 2021

Advocates allege that LA County’s delayed CalFresh benefits cause thousands to wait too long for food

A coalition of Los Angeles-area anti-poverty and food-assistance groups filed suit against the county on Monday, November 22, alleging that officials had filed emergency applications for government food aid for thousands of people in urgent need. Have dragged their feet into processing. of a meal.

Hunger Action Los Angeles, a lawsuit filed Monday morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Los Angeles Community Action Network and a resident affected by the delay, alleges that the county’s Department of Public Social Services failed to release emergency CalFresh benefits “on time” . “Methods required by law.

“LA County has no comment at this time on the specifics of this lawsuit,” county spokesman Jesse Ruiz said in a statement. “The county has taken extensive steps to provide food to families struggling during the pandemic, including partnerships that have enabled us to distribute 10 million pounds of food to more than 600,000 residents at more than 100 events, as well as 10 lakh meals have been provided to the people. Among other efforts, families with infants experiencing homelessness and 110,000 cans of infant formula.

CalFresh is a federal program—which was once known as a “food stamp”—that provides monthly benefits to those in need to receive basic nutrition. DPPS is the county branch responsible for distributing processing applications for benefits.

The 15-page filing also named County Board of Supervisors and DPPS director Antonia Jimenez as dependents.

“If CalFresh doesn’t function properly, thousands of people may be left with no means of getting a basic meal,” said Frank Tamborello, executive director of Hunger Action Los Angeles. “And unfortunately, in LA County, CalFresh is not functioning properly and we have no recourse other than to participate in legal action to demand a fix. There are thousands of people who are without food. Because the bureaucracy is not approving the applications for CalFresh for emergency cases with the legal framework.”

Under state law this deadline is within one to three days for the most desperate people:

– without accommodation;

People fleeing domestic violence;

– Residents who do not have financial resources, who have just lost their job;

– Individuals with an income of less than $150 per month and less than $100 in resources; Or

Residents whose housing cost exceeds their income.

Their advocates point to data showing that from October 2020 to September 2021, an average of 36% of eligible families in county households had to wait too long for accelerated CalFresh benefits after applying. According to advocates, citing the county’s own data, that totals to about 54,000 homes. In September 2021, the lawsuit alleged that 29% of eligible households — about 4,900 — missed out on benefits because the county had missed the state’s statutory three-day deadline to turn in emergency applications. Similar disparities played out under the federal time limit, which is seven days.

The stakes were high in those days, advocates say. Children suffer from hunger. They neither go to school nor study. People are forced to choose between paying for food or paying rent. For the homeless, a lack of immediate healthy food worsens the cycle of chronic disease, and can often result in early death, said Todd Cunningham, food and wellness organizer for the Los Angeles Community Action Network, noting that delays occur at such times. coming when homeless centers already lack sufficient services to meet demand.

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“This data is shocking and unacceptable, and this county must do better,” said Lina Silver, associate director of Litigation and Policy Advocacy at Neighborhood Legal Services in Los Angeles, which is representing the petitioners.

Petitioners include Peter Giovanni Torres-Gutierrez. In June, the teenager’s father, a daily wage worker, suffered a stroke, leaving him unable to work. The family had no income, but according to lawyers, they were eligible for accelerated CalFresh benefits within three days. Lawyers said that after forty-five days, aid finally arrived.

In some cases, applicants never heard word back from the county, Tamborello said.

The issue of food insecurity is particularly acute during a pandemic. A recent report from the LA City Controller’s office found that nearly 1 million LA County households reported being food insecure during the outbreak. Among the most affected residents were single parents, especially women of color.

With greater demand for their services, groups including Hunger Action LA are further pressed into service.

Often, they refer their clients to the county or help them apply. But the county’s delay is indicating a “lack of confidence” among applicants that they will ever see benefits.

“It hurt our credibility in the community, because people were referred to the LA County DPSS in good faith that they would respond in a timely fashion,” Tamaborello said.

What fuels the lawsuit, advocates say, is that agencies in the surrounding area are performing better when it comes to responding to emergency applications for benefits.

Silver said only three other California counties — Tulare, Sonoma and Sacramento counties — ranked worse than LA County in terms of the amount of benefits applications processed over the 12-month period.

“LA County definitely stands out as an outlier,” Silver said. “There is no doubt that there have been points in the pandemic where other counties have struggled to keep up with the growth in demand due to the volatility of COVID-19 and this pandemic, but other top-population counties in their has performed better. 12 months average. ,

For example, in San Bernardino County, the 12-month average of untimely processed applications was 11.14% compared to 36% in LA County. In Orange County, the average is less than 7%, and in Riverside it is closer to 6.5%, Silver said.

“There’s a way to do this well within resources that are proportionately allocated to each county, and that’s what we need to have in Los Angeles County, and that’s what we expect,” Silver said.

Silver suggested that the chronic nature of the delay suggests a systemic problem within the department. However, it is not clear where the error lies. “In my experience, … DPSS is not starting to process applications on time,” Silver said, adding that applications need to be addressed “on the first day they arrive.” Which includes mandatory interview with the applicant.

“Whatever the reasons, it is the county’s responsibility to address these issues, and the bottom line is they need to do it better,” Silver said.

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