Each year in Alameda County, $46 million worth of free food goes unclaimed by the poor who qualify but don’t use federal food stamps.
It’s a problem the city of Oakland just received $125,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fix. Eight cities nationwide were given grants Monday to boost enrollment in the federal food-stamp program, which allows the poor to buy staples each month such as cereal, milk and meat.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank and the city of Oakland will use the money to focus on Asian immigrants who don’t speak English, a group that makes up 4 percent of the 54,000 people who use food stamps in Alameda County.
Statewide, only half those entitled to food stamps are actually using them, according to federal estimates.
“There’s a lot of myth about food stamps,” said Kari Martell, community coordinator of the Alameda County Community Food Bank.
When the food bank recently tried to boost the enrollment of Spanish- speakers in the food-stamp program, researchers found that many believed they could lose their residency status if they filled out federal forms about their family.
Others mistakenly thought they would be required to pay the money back at some point, and some didn’t realize that their children qualified for food stamps, even though the parents didn’t.