CalFresh Responds to Unprecedented Need

April 8, 2020

Nutrition Program Reduces Barriers to Access 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as CalFresh here in California, helps people get the food they need to weather economically challenging times. With unemployment reaching staggering new heights, more people are turning to CalFresh than ever before.  

The Food Bank is deeply invested in helping eligible people access this program. Our CalFresh Outreach team provides application assistance year-round, walking first-time applicants through what can be a confusing and frustrating process. Our Policy & Advocacy team regularly works with lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels to improve the administration of the program.  

During this pandemic, Congress has included investments in this program in all three COVID-19 economic stimulus bills. Additionally, both the State of California and the Federal government have heeded the demands of advocates to increase flexibility in the CalFresh program to help people more easily access and maintain the benefits they need to survive this crisis. 

Federal Changes – Learn more from the USDA 

  • Pandemic EBT – families with children who receive free or reduced-price lunch whose schools are closed due to the pandemic will receive a pre-loaded EBT (credit-like) card in the mail to spend on food. No application is necessary. 
  • Emergency SNAP – states are able to provide a “boost” for all CalFresh recipients, bumping their benefit amount up to the maximum allowed for their household size.  If you live alone and were receiving $50 pre-COVID, your allotment would be increased to $194/month for the months of March and April. 

State Changes – Learn more here 

  • Waived Interview Requirement – Applicants no longer need to have an interview with a county eligibility worker to be approved for benefits. They only need to apply and submit necessary documents to receive a determination of their eligibility. 
  • Waived Periodic Reports – CalFresh recipients are temporarily exempt from having to submit documentation to re-verify their need for benefits. This will help people continue to receive money for food without interruption during this period. 
  • Allowance of Telephonic Signature – For now, applicants can complete the entire application, including their verbal signature, over the phone. 
  • Request for Online Purchasing – California requested the ability to allow CalFresh recipients to use their benefits at online retailers including Walmart and Amazon.  The USDA approved this request 4.8.2020, and CA plans to implement it in May.

These temporary changes will help the hundreds of thousands of Californians who have found themselves in need in the past few weeks get access to the food they need to survive this crisis and the Food Bank applauds them. However, there is still more to be done. 

Action Needed: Contact your Members of Congress (House and Senate) and urge them to support Speaker Pelosi and Democratic Leader Schumer in putting SNAP among the priority programs for any COVID-19 package. Ask for:

  •  15% increase in food stamps benefits 
  • An increase in the minimum benefit from $16 to $30

Need help finding your Members of Congress? Use this tool, which provides the phone numbers and social media accounts for Senators and Representatives by state and zip code.

Advocates Respond to COVID-19

April 1, 2020

Government Action Offers Some Relief, but More is Needed to Prevent Widespread Hunger

For the 37 million Americans who were struggling with food insecurity before this crisis unfolded, and for the millions more who were just barely making ends meet, COVID-19 has meant an unfathomable increase in hunger and hardship.

While our Programs and Operations teams work tirelessly to launch new pop-up pantries to respond to the growing demand for food in our community, our Policy & Advocacy team has been collaborating with elected leaders and social safety net administrators to ensure that all our neighbors can feed themselves and their families during this challenging time.

Federal Response

The Food Bank, along with anti-hunger advocates at the national and state level, has been in regular contact with our members of Congress since the beginning of the crisis to push for essential resources and nutrition assistance for our communities. We applaud our federal leaders for swiftly passing measures to provide direct aid to individuals and families.  Without strong economic security measures, food insecurity will only intensify.  These bills also include key investments for:

  • food security through SNAP (formerly food stamps);
  • food for kids who usually rely on free meals at school;
  • USDA commodities for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

Details of the first three stimulus bills are linked here:

Despite these investments, we believe that lawmakers missed a critical opportunity to serve the dual function of stimulating the economy and feeding hungry Americans by increasing the maximum SNAP benefit by 15% and increasing the minimum benefit to $30. Every $1 of SNAP benefits spent generates between $1.50-$1.80 in economic activity.

State & Local Response

The stimulus bills passed by Congress also removed much of the administrative red tape that comes with operating federal nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC (Women, Infant, and Children), and Free and Reduced-Price School Meals.  These federal programs are administered at the local level, so California’s safety net program administrators have been working around the clock to ensure a smooth rollout of these administrative flexibilities to provide food relief for those impacted by the pandemic.  We are working closely with our state and county partners to prevent any of our vulnerable neighbors from falling through the cracks.

Earlier this month, Governor Newsom issued an executive order that eased rules for applicants to social service programs, including CalFresh, Medi-Cal health coverage, welfare through CalWorks, and in-home support services.  The state has also taken action towards eliminating known barriers to accessing CalFresh, including waiving the interview requirement and pursuing online food purchase using EBT. These changes come as an unprecedented wave of new CalFresh applications are being submitted each week.

While the state Legislature is on recess through April 13th, our state Senators and Assemblymembers have been supporting our efforts here in the community. Supervisors in both Marin and San Francisco counties have been engaged with our response effort and have worked to elevate our efforts in the community. We’re grateful for the support of our elected officials who have also stepped up by volunteering at our Pop-up pantries, sharing resources and referrals with their constituents via social media and newsletters, and championing state budget requests to shore up food bank emergency infrastructure.

 Take Action Now

It will take a concerted effort from advocates, community members, impacted individuals, and elected leaders to prioritize policy solutions that help all Californians put food on the table during this crisis. We can #EndHungerTogether.

Please, call your lawmakers (202-224-3121) and urge them to include new investments in SNAP that will help the economy rebound from the impact of the pandemic and are critical to ensuring the well-being of vulnerable people. Ask them to:

  • boost the SNAP maximum benefit;
  • increase the minimum monthly SNAP benefit to $30;
  • suspend any administrative actions that eliminate or weaken SNAP benefits.

Why a Fair and Accurate Census Matters in the Fight to End Hunger

March 12, 2020

Every 10 years, the US Census Bureau counts everyone in the US, which has lasting impacts on political representation and federal resources to support schools, hospitals, roads, and social services for local communities. 

Census 2020: Everyone Counts

We believe that a fair and accurate Census count is key to achieving our mission of ending hunger in San Francisco and Marin. Nonprofits like us and our partners have a responsibility to ensure that the people we serve, who are often from populations most at risk of being undercounted, are included in the count. Our network has deep, trusted roots in our communities, so we can help reassure our neighbors that participating in the Census is safe and important.

There’s a Lot at Stake 

The Census is not only an opportunity to empower our community — it is also an opportunity to help feed the nation. Data from the Census is used to determine how much federal funding will flow into essential food programs, like SNAP (food stamps), school meal programs, and the Women Infant and Children’s (WIC) program. It also guides funding for programs that support food banks like Community Development Block Grants and Community Service Block Grants.  

In 2016, California received more than $7 billion for SNAP (also known as CalFresh in California) from federal spending programs guided by data derived from the 2010 Census.  

 Census participation is critical – it will measure how many people across the country need food and help shape business decisions that help create jobs and prevent hungerEven a small undercut can cost states tens of millions of dollars. 

Join the Effort! 

We need our community partners to help support a Census that honors the diversity of our communities and leads to a full, fair, and accurate count. The 2020 Census provides a chance to shape our nation’s future. If we envision a hunger-free San Francisco and Marin, we need everyone to help spread the word about the importance of the Census and ensure no one is left uncounted. 

CalFresh Expands to 400,000 Californians and Counting

February 20, 2020

CalFresh Expansion Makes History

In April, we shared the big news on a policy change that expanded CalFresh (food stamps) eligibility to people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For the approximately 1.2 million Californians who rely on the maximum SSI benefit of just $783 a month (just 74% of the federal poverty line), finally being eligible to receive nutrition benefits can make a tremendous difference in their quality of life. Since the policy change went into effect in June 2019, we’ve been working tirelessly along with our county, state, and community-based partners to get the word out and help enroll the newly eligible seniors and adults with disabilities.

Our hard work has paid off! As of December, nearly 405,900 SSI recipients have been newly enrolled in CalFresh. That’s one-third of the entire SSI population in the state! These new applicants are receiving an average of $75-$85 per month to help meet their grocery needs.

“It has helped me a lot – you wouldn’t believe it!”

You might remember 71-year-old San Francisco resident Queen, we blogged about her last year. When the policy change went into effect in June, we helped her navigate the application process. We caught up with her last week to hear about how receiving CalFresh has impacted her life.

Queen shared her excitement about being able to use the benefits to get extra spending power at farmer’s markets through the Market Match program. “The CalFresh benefits help me purchase foods at a local African grocery store. It reminds me of my home in the Gambia,” she said. CalFresh helps her keep in good spirits. She shared, “If you eat good, of course, it impacts your health. I have been diagnosed with depression, so sometimes when I want to lift my spirit, I go and get something that I really like to eat and it helps a lot.”

Take Action!

Are you an SSI recipient interested in applying for CalFresh benefits?

  • CLICK: Apply online: GetCalFresh.org
  • CALL: Call our hotline to get application assistance in English, Spanish, or Chinese: 415-549-7021
  • COME IN: Walk into a county office to apply in person: Locations are listed on the Human Services Agency website

Are you a community-based organization interested in helping your clients enroll? 

  1. The Food Bank provides CalFresh Outreach and Application Assistance training for agencies who work closely with SSI recipients. For San Francisco-based agencies, contact Ada Lai at 415-282-1907 x258 or alai@sfmfoodbank.org. For Marin organizations, contact Alexandra Danino at 415-282-1907 x014 or adanino@sfmfoodbank.org
  2. Check out the San Francisco Human Services Agency Partner Toolkit, which includes helpful resources and outreach materials
  3. Download informational flyers to hand out and post at your organization:

Hunger Action Coalition Takes Policy Demands to Sacramento

January 30, 2020

#EndHungerTogether

As active members of the California Hunger Action Coalition (CHAC), we have been fighting for policies and programs to combat hunger for nearly three decades.  On January 22nd, our Policy & Advocacy team traveled to Sacramento to join fellow anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates for a day of action in the Capitol.  We joined advocates from the End Child Poverty California campaign for a rally on the Capitol lawn, drawing attention to the heartbreaking and intolerable fact that California has the highest rate (1 in 5 kids) of child poverty in the country.

Building Political Will

We met with our elected officials in the Assembly and Senate on our policy and budget priorities for 2020.  We are lucky to have champions for our cause in both houses, and they came out to listen to what some of our most vulnerable neighbors had to share about their experience.  This face-to-face interaction between impacted Californians and the elected leaders who represent them is core to our strategy of influencing policy at the state and local level.

From Words to Action

As the 2020 legislative session begins to pick up speed this spring, we will be in Sacramento continuing to fight for policies that help our most vulnerable neighbors feed themselves and their families.  We are co-sponsoring a bill this year authored by Senator Scott Wiener, SB 882, our “Simpler for Seniors” CalFresh bill, which will help older Californians struggling to make ends meet get the food benefits they need to age with dignity.

Governor’s 2020 Budget Proposal

January 16, 2020

Governor’s Budget Prioritizes Human Services Programs

On January 10th, Governor Newsom released his proposed 2020-2021 budget for the State of California. We were thrilled to see that the year-round advocacy efforts of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and our statewide anti-hunger coalition partners achieved significant investments for low-income Californians.

Governor Newsom’s proposed budget signals the State’s willingness to join us in our efforts to help the more than 4 million (11.2%) Californians struggling to feed themselves and their families.

Here are a few of the new State investments that will help feed our neighbors:

  • Food for Food Banks: $8 million will be allocated for CalFood to support food banks’ purchase of California-grown foods.
  • Improved School Meals: $60 million to increase the state’s portion of the school meal reimbursement rate, which should result in higher nutritional quality meals for kids.
  • College Pantries: $11.4 million will be invested to establish or support food pantries on college campuses, like the ones the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has developed.

More Work Needed to End Hunger Among Vulnerable Californians

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank advocated, along with our partners at the Californians for SSI (CA4SSI) Coalition, for a much-needed restoration of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) grants.  These grants were cut during the Great Recession and never restored once the economy improved.  The maximum federal SSI benefit of $771 a month is just 74% of today’s federal poverty line, and leaves some of our most vulnerable neighbors hungry and impoverished.  We know SSI is a crucial program in helping lift seniors and disabled Californians out of poverty and we will continue to advocate for SSI increases in the final budget agreement.

We are also pushing to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)  and Young Child Tax Credit to immigrant families who pay taxes, earn insufficient wages from their jobs, and experience significant economic disparities in our communities.

San Francisco-Marin Food Bank Policy and Advocacy 2020 Outlook

In the coming months, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank will continue to advocate for programs and policies that will alleviate hunger in our communities.  We cannot achieve #FoodforAll without a strong social safety net, the support of our elected officials, and the countless contributions of our community-based partners and supporters.

Stay tuned for more Policy & Advocacy updates throughout 2020!

 

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Food Bank Opposes Latest Cuts to Food Stamps

December 4, 2019

San Francisco-Marin Food Bank Opposes Federal Rule Change that Will Take Food from ~755,000 Americans

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture finalized a rule change that will result in significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps and known as CalFresh in California). SNAP is a vital anti-hunger safety net, helping low-income residents make ends meet in high-cost areas like San Francisco and Marin. Currently, over 64,000 San Francisco residents and nearly 10,000 Marin residents receive monthly SNAP/CalFresh nutrition benefits to help meet their basic food needs. This rule change jeopardizes the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable neighbors by imposing arbitrary and harmful time limitations on nutrition assistance. Simply put, this rule change will result in some 755,000 people losing SNAP benefits, exacerbating hunger across our state and throughout our communities.

Rule Targets People Unable to Secure Sufficient Employment

This change will punish workers who are struggling to find steady employment by taking away their food assistance, which won’t help them find a better job or find work faster. Imagine your last job search.  Now imagine doing it on an empty stomach and no idea how you will pay for your next meal. It harms vulnerable people by denying them food benefits at a time when they most need it, and it does not result in increased employment and earnings. The people targeted by this change already face multiple barriers to work, including limited access to adequate transportation and affordable housing, criminal records that impact job eligibility, and undiagnosed physical and mental illnesses.

Food Bank Remains Steadfast in Commitment to Provide Food for All

The publication of this rule comes despite the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which had strong bipartisan support and explicitly rejected these cuts to the SNAP program. The Administration’s publication of this rule goes against Congressional intent, our mission as a food bank, and our shared belief that no one deserves to go hungry in America. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank remains committed to working to end hunger in our service area.

While published today, the rule is not yet in effect and is pending a 60-day waiting period. The rules, however, have not changed – and individuals impacted should continue using benefits as usual. We urge CalFresh clients and community members who are concerned about the impact of this change to call our CalFresh hotline at 415-767-5220 or visit sfmfoodbank.org.

 

 

CalFresh Policy Change Is a Win-Win for Low-Income Neighbors and Farmers

October 18, 2019

After a hard-won advocacy effort by the Food Bank and aging and disability rights groups, for the first time in decades, CalFresh eligibility was extended to SSI recipients in June.  Since then, over 14,000 San Franciscans have applied to receive food benefits!  Our own multi-lingual CalFresh Outreach team has helped over 1,000 newly eligible neighbors apply. 

One of the additional benefits of this historic policy change is an increase in the usage of CalFresh benefits at farmers markets in our community. The Heart of the City Farmers Market in San Francisco’s Civic Center has been operating an independent, farmer-operated non-profit farmers market since 1981, but CalFresh uptake at this market has exploded since the policy change, with the number of people purchasing using CalFresh benefits increasing by 90% over the same time last year.

Thanks to the support from the Stupski Foundation, which has identified improving access to the CalFresh program as a priority, the Heart of the City team has expanded staffing, set up CalFresh on-site enrollment stations, and purchased a second EBT machine to process CalFresh transactions more quickly. On their busiest day this fall, they served 1,538 customers, with CalFresh sales of $10,528! This is a fantastic example of how government, philanthropy, and the private sector can work together to improve food access for low-income people in our community.

Market Match Program Doubles CalFresh Purchasing Power

This growth has been enabled by an innovative healthy food incentive program called Market Match. Market Match is a dollar for dollar match, which allows CalFresh users to double their purchasing power at the farmers market. Annually, Market Match helps over 211,000 CalFresh recipients and increased the take-home revenue for 1,900 California farmers.

Benefits are Inadequate to Compensate for Cost of Living

Despite these exciting developments at the local level, many newly eligible CalFresh recipients are receiving the minimum benefit allotment of $15 a month, which definitely isn’t enough to keep a full fridge in our expensive community. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap research, the average cost of a meal here is $4.59, so incentive programs like Market Match are invaluable for helping our low-income neighbors meet their food needs.

There are efforts at the Federal level to address the inadequacy of benefit levels, including Closing the Meal Gap Act (H.R. 1368) backed by Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) and 113 House Members.  Check out the list of co-sponsors to see if your Representative has endorsed this effort.  If they haven’t, find out who represents you and reach out to demand they support this important effort!

Check out our staffer, Angelica, welcoming folks at the CUESA Farmers Market in the Mission

Newest Trump Administration Proposal Would Leave 3 Million Americans Hungry

August 1, 2019

Every day, our staff helps working parents, seniors, and adults with disabilities apply for the federal food stamp benefits they need to make ends meet.  That’s why we are we are deeply troubled by yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to take direct aim at our country’s most important and effective anti-hunger program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps; now called CalFresh in California).

Existing Policy Supports Working Families
This newest attack on the food stamps program targets a policy called Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility. This policy lets states adopt less restrictive requirements for household assets –  so families, seniors, and adults with disabilities can see modest increases in income and savings without losing their food stamps benefits.  The Administration calls this a “loophole” that permits those with higher incomes and assets to get public assistance who don’t necessarily need it.  But research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that the policy actually helps support low-income, working families by preventing them from falling off the “benefit cliff” as their income rises slightly and allows them to start saving for the future.

Hunger Would Spike for 3 Million Americans
By changing the way states determine who qualifies for SNAP, the administration would effectively kick more than 3 million people – including thousands in San Francisco and Marin – off the SNAP program – basically telling these millions of vulnerable people that they’ll soon have to look elsewhere for vital nutrition every month.  This attack joins earlier proposals from the Administration to slash benefits for unemployed and underemployed adults, make massive cuts to the program in the federal budget, and move the goal line by arbitrarily changing the way poverty is calculated.  This is a coordinated attempt to erode our social safety net, and will succeed only creating a poorer and hungrier nation by denying Americans the assistance they need to lead healthy, productive lives.

Join Us and Fight Back

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank remains firmly committed to using our voice to elevate the importance of nutrition programs like SNAP which are a lifeline to our neighbors in need.  Please stand with us and raise your voice in opposition to this proposal.

Trump Administration’s Poverty-Line Proposal Would Cut Benefits for Millions of Low-Income Americans

May 29, 2019

Last week, the Office of Management and Budget proposed a change to how the federal government officially measures poverty. They proposed using a lower inflation measure to calculate yearly adjustments to the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), which would end up cutting billions of dollars of benefits from federal health programs and throw millions of low-income Americans off the food, shelter, and medical benefits they need to survive.

Many vital federal programs like SNAP (food stamps), school meals, and Medicare use this official poverty measure to determine eligibility and benefits.  This proposed change would make millions of people – who are right on the cusp of making ends meet – ineligible for these programs.

Making Ends Meet is Already a Struggle

We know that the Federal Poverty Line is already insufficient to measure what low-income people face in our incredibly high-cost region. According to the 2019 Federal Poverty Guidelines, a family of four is impoverished if they make $25,750 a year. With Bay Area rent for one-bedroom apartments averaging around $3,000, that would mean a family would exceed their annual income just to remain housed. Changing the measure would do nothing to improve their circumstances, and in many cases would actually do great harm by making them ineligible for the services they need to survive.

 

Hang on, what’s the Federal Poverty Line again?

The current poverty line was created in 1963, based on 1955 consumer spending data and is updated by the Consumer Price Index in each year since.  It’s worth dwelling on this for a second: the way we as a nation measure poverty is based on a 56-year-old analysis of 64-year-old data on food consumption, with no changes other than inflation adjustment. No wonder it is insufficient to capture true need in the 21st century!

Is this the only way we have to measure who is poor in America?

It has long been understood that the FPL is incomplete and outdated. If the Office of Management and Budget wants to look at a revised definition of poverty, it should take a look at the Supplemental Poverty Measure created by The Bureau of the Census. It does a much more thorough job estimating poverty using multiple income sources (including SNAP and tax credits) and taking into account a full range of household expenditures like housing, child care, and medical expenses.

What can we do about it?

You can submit a comment to the Office of Management and Budget here before the deadline of June 21st.  Our friends at the Coalition for Human Needs have created an easy step-by-step guide to help you submit your comment.

Thank you for continuing to join us in pushing for an end to hunger and poverty in San Francisco and Marin!