There's a long article on the front page of the New York Times this morning about the increasing use of food stamps.
It does mention that it's been government policy over the last three administrations to encourage the use of the program, but completely leaves out (or maybe postpones for another article) the changes in eligibility requirements that have enabled the increased numbers of people to use it.
I think the article would lead a casual reader to believe that the people in Orange County who are getting the food stamps now could just as well have gotten them ten years ago, except that they'd have been embarrassed to have their neighbors see them using the stamps in the checkout line.
I don't know anything about eligibility requirements in California, but I looked at the Massachusetts ones 8 years ago when I ran out of unemployment compensation and was going to have to start dipping into savings.
At that time, in Massachusetts, you couldn't get food stamps if you had more than $600 in a bank account (including an IRA with penalties for accessing it before you were 59 1/2), or a car worth more than $2000. $600 is less than a month's rent for most people in Massachusetts, and a car worth less than $2000 is probably going to lead you to miss work several days a year. The combination of the car worth less than $2000 and the less than a month's rent in the bank is likely to tempt you to put off fixing your brakes when they break.
I was becoming increasingly alarmed as I read the article about all the counties where nearly half the residents are eligible for food stamps, so I googled for the current requirements in Massachusetts.
It turns out that some time in the last eight years, they've stopped asking you about assets at all unless you're also getting certain other means-tested benefits. So I would probably have been eligible 8 years ago, and all those people getting the food stamps may well have enough money to pay their rent and fix their brakes.