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Legislature must help get word out on food stamps

Citizen Staff Writer

It is amazing, yet unsurprising, that in 2009 so many Arizonans need help obtaining that most basic of needs: food.

Amazing because this is America; people aren’t supposed to go hungry.

Unsurprising because the recession, which began in December 2007 and shows no signs of abating, has put tens of thousands of Arizonans out of work and onto food stamps.

In 2008, the nation’s food stamp rolls grew by 7.3 percent, but Arizona’s spiked by 15.2 percent. More than 700,000 Arizonans get food stamps, including more than 116,000 people in Pima County.

The number of households in the county receiving food aid has increased 20 percent from 2007 to 2008.

Tens of thousands more in the county and throughout the state are eligible, but don’t get the aid, likely because they don’t know they qualify for it. (A family of four earning less than $28,000 a year is eligible.)

That’s why “stomach-turning” is the only way we can describe the consistent underfunding by the Republican-dominated Legislature of the state’s effort to reach everyone who is eligible for food aid.

In 2007, the Legislature reduced its outlay to the Arizona Community Action Association, which conducts food stamp outreach, by $50,000. That cut was magnified because the organization lost federal matching funds. Its budget for outreach shrank from $157,000 to $57,000.

“It is wholly inadequate to do a good job,” Cynthia Zwick of the association told The Arizona Republic.

This year, Arizona (population 6.5 million) set aside $28,500 for outreach; Oregon (population 3.8 million) allotted $433,000.

The consequence of that disparity: 39 percent of eligible Arizonans do not participate in food stamp programs, compared with 15 percent of eligible Oregonians. (The U.S. participation rate is 33 percent.)

We don’t expect the Republicans who run the state to rush in with a fix. After all, as they balanced this year’s budget, they seemed to take an almost perverse glee in savaging the budgets for the state’s universities and K-12 education.

Besides, food stamps are federal programs administered by the states. Isn’t it the job of the feds to expand outreach efforts? (They have.) And ultimately it’s the poor’s responsibility to feed themselves, right?

So, all we ask of state officials and legislators who don’t believe food stamp outreach should be a priority is this: Miss a meal. Or two. Or three. Then ask yourselves: For the needy, should the price of ignorance be hunger?

Just some food for thought.

• For information on more than two dozen human service programs and their qualification requirements, go to www.arizonaselfhelp.org.

Arizona has $28,500 to reach out to people eligible for food stamps. Smaller Oregon spends 15 times that.

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