Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

First-grade math looks easier than calculating California's education funding. The state's per-pupil spending in 2011 was $1,421 below the national average, the Census Bureau reports.

The Buzz: Jerry Brown officials ponder how to recover those dimes

Published: Wednesday, May. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

A dime toward food benefits could cost a pretty penny

Absent legislative action, taxpayers will have to pay about 50 cents per letter to notify more than a million households that a 10-cent public benefit is about to expire.

Total cost: $745,000, split evenly between state and federal funds.

The unusual situation stems from a 10-cents-per-year federal subsidy that is placed on debit cards for 1.5 million households, generally working-poor families, that receive CalFresh food assistance but not monthly welfare grants.

The meager subsidy officially is called a low-income home energy assistance benefit, but a dime won't dent utility costs. More importantly, it qualifies families for a computation that raises their food benefits by about $62 per month.

Because the dime can be spent as cash, while there are restrictions on what food benefits can buy, the two must be segregated on debit cards. The result is that families tend to ignore the 10-cent subsidy and it sits idle, month after month.

After 180 days, the dime subsidy disappears, so regulations require families to be notified after 135 days.

Thus the state's dilemma.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposes to avoid the expense by adding a clause to a budget trailer bill that would require notification only for sums of $1 or more.

BY THE NUMBERS

California spent more than any other state on education in 2011, but its per-pupil spending was $1,421 below the national average, putting it 36th, according to a Census Bureau report. Education advocates say the state ranks near the bottom compared to other states if one counts only state and local funds. The feds count all revenue and spending.

WORTH REPEATING

"Between them, LA's mayoral candidates visited at least nine restaurants on election day. First act in office: diet!"

PATT MORRISON, Los Angeles Times columnist, via Twitter, describing last-minute campaigning by Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel

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