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Local Church in Process of Losing Food Stamp License

The New Ark Church is losing its license to provide welfare food benefits

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    The USDA is in the process of revoking the New Ark Church's license to provide welfare food benefits. NBC 7 Investigates' Wendy Fry reports. (Published Monday, May 4, 2015)

    The federal government is in the process of taking away a local church's license to provide welfare food benefits, according to the USDA.

    In a statement to NBC 7 Investigates on Monday, the USDA said the "New Ark Church is clearly not operating a Project SHARE site as indicated on their SNAP application."

    The New Ark Church in Redwood Village has had a Project SHARE license since August 2013. The license allows them to provide families with boxes of food in exchange for a box price. The program also requires participants volunteer a certain number of hours each month.

    Typically, food welfare recipients have their food stamps in the form of an EBT card, which is like a debit card. They can take that card anywhere the food or SNAP benefits are provided. That money is supposed to be spent on food and nothing else.

    "We help those that don't have food, those that need clothing," said Pastor James Wright of the New Ark Church in a web video describing what his ministry is about.

    Last year, several people receiving SNAP benefits from New Ark told NBC 7 Investigates they didn't receive food, but rather traded their food stamps for shelter.

    The USDA would not go into specifics about why the federal agency is beginning the process of taking away New Ark’s license. It also would not confirm if it was related to the claims made to NBC 7 Investigates.

    "We don't take EBT for rent, let's get it clear," Pastor David Barrett, another pastor who was affiliated with New Ark, told NBC7 Investigates last summer. "We only use it for food purposes to provide food because we provide the meals at the house."

    Barrett told us last year the EBT debits were part of providing food at shelters for homeless and immigrants.

    "Let me share something with you. If you are providing food, you are allowed to use their EBT to provide the food," Barrett said last summer.

    San Diego residents shared their EBT transaction history, showing thousands of dollars of food benefits debited at the church.

    In September of last year, several recipients of those taxpayer-funded benefits say they didn't receive food, but rather traded their food stamps for shelter.

    "There was no food at the home," Crystal Powell, a former shelter resident told us. "We weren't allowed in the kitchen. I wasn't allowed to fix my kids anything when we got home from school."

    At least eight past residents of Barrett’s shelters told NBC 7 Investigates he never provided any food at the shelters. Some provided us with photos of what they said were locks on the refrigerators and cabinets at a Shelter in Santee called the “House of Hope.”

    NBC 7 Investigates checked with local and state authorities for CalFresh guidelines.

    A Department of Social Services spokesman said it is not uncommon for a shelter to collect and pool social security benefits in order to provide room and board for the residents. But it is not legal for a provider to confiscate CalFresh benefits to provide food to an entire shelter, he said.

    “The intent of that food is to feed a specific family, not everybody in a congregate care environment,” said Michael Weston, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services.

    CalFresh Program Specialist Matthew Heffernan, from the County’s Health and Human Services Agency, says group homes are not typically permitted to collect food stamp benefits, unless they have a rare and special license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed New Ark had a SHARE license but that the agency is in the process of revoking that license.

    Attempts to reach Wright for comment were not successful, and New Ark's gates were locked when NBC 7 Investigates tried to visit Monday.