Millions of low-income Californians are missing out on CalFresh – a critical resource for families who are struggling with hunger.
CalFresh, known nationally as SNAP and commonly as ‘food stamps,’ is our California’s first line of defense against hunger. Funded through the Farm Bill with federal funding, it supports 4.5 million Californians1 with an average monthly benefit of $3042 per household.
How it Works: Stability for families.
For people with a limited income, CalFresh is a vital resource that enables them to purchase food for themselves and their families. In San Francisco and Marin, a combined 60,000 people rely on CalFresh as a supplement to their food budgets. Most households that receive CalFresh include children and elderly family members – our most vulnerable low-income neighbors.
After an application process, CalFresh benefits are electronically loaded on a debit card (called an EBT card) each month, which allows participants to buy food from the grocery store or their local market. This gives families choice and agency around how they feed themselves and their families.
The Problem: Cumbersome application process.
The problem is, millions of Californians who qualify for the program are not receiving benefits. In fact, California is one of the worst performing states when it comes to enrolling eligible people.
Only 66% of eligible Californians are receiving benefits3, compared to some of the best performing states like Oregon and Washington, where close to 100% of eligible people are enrolled.
In San Francisco and Marin, an estimated additional 62,000 people may be eligible for CalFresh but are not enrolled. In other words, only about half of all eligible residents of San Francisco and Marin are receiving CalFresh.
Potential Economic Impact: The lost opportunity.
In addition to providing stability for families, the use of CalFresh dollars spurs the economy. In San Francisco and Marin alone, we are missing out on $225 million in economic activity every year5. And as a state, California is missing out on an estimated $5.2 billion in economic activity per year that would be created if everyone eligible for CalFresh received benefits.
CalFresh provides powerful leverage for local governments, because the CalFresh dollars that people receive on their EBT cards are paid for entirely by the federal government, while only a small fraction of the administrative costs are paid for through local funding. In most counties, including San Francisco and Marin, only 15% of administrative costs are paid for by the county budget, while the rest is covered by the state and federal budgets6. In other words, a very small local investment can yield large economic benefits for our whole community.