Stimulus funds to aid California food stamp recipients

Thousands of Valley food stamp recipients will get a bump in benefits starting this month, thanks to federal stimulus money rolling into California. Help is also coming to food banks, which will be sent more eggs, cheese and other commodities.

With jobless rates climbing, the boost is coming just in time, advocates for low-income residents said.

"Food banks across the state are being inundated by requests for help – most from first-time seekers," said Jessica Bartholow, director of programs for the California Association of Food Banks.

Monthly food stamp allowances will jump by 13.6% across the state, meaning a family of four will get a maximum $668 each month, up from $588, state officials said Wednesday. Food banks, meanwhile, will get 10 million more pounds of food, enough for up to 2 million extra bags. The changes were effective Wednesday.

The extra help comes as the Valley's economic picture continues to darken. Small towns are struggling as farmers deal with water shortages. And just this week, Gottschalks, a major employer, announced it was going out of business after filing for bankruptcy in January.

In Fresno County, the jobless rate was 16% in February, up 5 percentage points from a year ago. Tulare County's rate was up 6 points to 17%.

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