No one should go hungry

Jeff vonKaenel

There are many issues to disagree about. Taxes, schools, abortion, defense spending. But I would hope that all of us can agree that no member of our community should have to go to bed hungry.

No neighbor of ours should have to chose between food and medicine. No mother should have to feed her children unhealthy, vitamin-deficient, calorie-enhanced food because it is all she can afford. No child should pay more attention to his or her empty stomach than the blackboard.

We should, we must end hunger in Sacramento. And we have some good news. Or, to be more exact, Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna had some good news recently. With a proud look, like a young lad who finally had an excellent report card, Phil pulled out a report from California Food Policy Advocates documenting the fact that Sacramento County had dramatically increased enrollment in CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps) recipients in 2011.

According to the CFPA folks, from 2008 to 2011, Sacramento reduced the number of residents who were eligible for CalFresh benefits but not receiving them from 45,338 to 19,588. This increased level of participation not only means fewer hungry people, but it has also helped our local economy by bringing more federally funded aid into our state. This trend has also reduced the pressure on our overwhelmed food banks.

Recognizing that increasing CalFresh participation is by far the most effective way to reduce hunger, Serna has worked diligently to encourage outreach efforts and work with county staff members to improve and streamline procedures.

“I am very encouraged that we could have such a dramatic increase in such a short period of time. We have been able to go from only around 70 percent participation to over 90 percent. Of California’s 58 counties, we have the fourth-best participation rate, and the second-best of large counties,” said Serna. He went on to praise the work of the County Welfare Department, which has been key in making these changes.

There is still much that needs to be done. In Sacramento County, there are still nearly 20,000 individuals who would benefit from CalFresh. And there are more hungry people in the surrounding counties. In 2011, CFPA listed the CalFresh participation rates: Sacramento County, 91 percent; El Dorado County, 66 percent; Nevada County, 55 percent; Placer County, 62 percent; Sutter County, 68 percent; and Yolo County, 41 percent. Yolo County was ranked 56th out of 58 counties.

These CFPA figures translate into nearly 70,000 people who should be receiving aid but are not. And just as we would be outraged if 70,000 of our neighbors qualifying for Social Security were not able to get their checks, we should be outraged that some of our neighbors are not receiving food assistance that they are eligible for. Help Phil Serna send the message: No one who is eligible for assistance should go hungry.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.