My family is running out of food, but there’s still one more step before we get assistance: investigators from the district attorney’s office must search our house.
The investigators finally arrive. They introduce themselves without smiling. I’m not prepared for what is about to happen.
The lady opens all the kitchen cabinets while I watch, incredulous. She opens the refrigerator, moves around some contents and takes notes. I don’t know what she writes, but I’m scared. I need the approval of my application. Otherwise, we are going to end up living in a refugee camp or on the streets.
My daughters – ages 1, 4, and 11 – are watching me. They are worried. I try to smile, but they know I’m suffering. It’s the first time they’ve seen me so defenseless. I’m supposed to take care of them.
I follow the man to our bathroom. He checks on the toothbrushes, counting them and asking me why there are six instead of just four. I answer that I use two and the other one belongs to my brother. He looks at me in disbelief and writes more notes.
Next, he starts checking on our laundry hamper, looking at my family’s clothes, searching for something that would prove I’m committing fraud. The lady enters our bedroom, where all four of us sleep. She flips over our air mattress and reads the personal papers I keep underneath.
The process is denigrating. Tears fall from my eyes. But I need the assistance.
After 30 minutes of searching and questioning, the investigators finally depart, leaving me on a rollercoaster of emotions. But forget about dignity. My daughters need to eat.
The Food Research and Action Center recently reported that San Diego – for the fifth year in a row – ranks last among 22 large U.S. cities in terms of the percentage of eligible residents who receive federal food stamps. In 2008 alone, San Diego residents missed out on an estimated $106 million in food-stamp benefits.
Our county is the only county in the nation that requires all cash-aid applicants to have their homes searched by investigators. No warrants are required for these unannounced and humiliating searches. The resulting culture of fear and degradation discourages many eligible participants from seeking help.
Despite our abundant resources, some of the most vulnerable people in San Diego wake up and go to bed hungry. Our city’s implementation of the federal food stamps program must be strengthened to better serve those in need.