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!

 

Big News in Hunger for Seniors and Adults With Disabilities!

April 30, 2019

For the first time since 1974, SSI recipients in California are eligible to receive CalFresh benefits. That’s 40,000 people in San Francisco and 3,000 neighbors in Marin – seniors and people with disabilities – who will be newly eligible for food stamp benefits.

With CalFresh benefits for a one-person household averaging $130 a month, this change can make a huge difference for someone in need. And, participating in CalFresh will not reduce SSI benefit amounts in any way.

Boosting food access and the local economy

Even conservative estimates suggest that connecting SSI recipients with CalFresh will result in many millions of dollars a year for low-income seniors and people with disabilities to spend on groceries. This won’t just improve the lives of SSI recipients, but the local economy gets a boost too. Every $1 spent in CalFresh benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity!

It took years of dedicated advocacy efforts by our Food Bank and our partners to achieve this historic change, which will improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.  It wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of our donors and coalition partners. Thank you!

In the coming weeks and months, the Food Bank’s Policy & Advocacy team and CalFresh Outreach team will work closely with the state, our counties, and other local partners to share this exciting news and assist hundreds of neighbors with CalFresh enrollment.

Learn More

  • This fact sheet from Californians for SSI provides a simple summary of the changes to CalFresh eligibility for SSI recipients

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. Another helpful resource is the California Department of Social Services Outreach Tool Kit for Partners
  4. Download informational flyers to hand out and post at your organization:

Want to get engaged with Food Bank’s Advocacy efforts like this?

This historic victory was made possible through the advocacy of the Californians for SSI Coalition (CA4SSI). As a partner and ally in improving the lives of SSI recipients, we want to invite you to join us on one of our CA4SSI membership conference calls every other Tuesday at 11:30am to share updates and discuss strategy. Why stop at CalFresh? Please join us as we advocate to increase the grants to people on SSI!

Check out this video of our listening session with SSI recipients on how hard it is to make ends meet on SSI: www.youtube.com/SSI

Click here to sign up for our eNewsletter and follow us on Twitter @SFMFoodBank

Advocacy in Action | Improving CalFresh by Streamlining Data Systems

February 15, 2019

Our Policy & Advocacy team is comprised of two data specialists, which sets us up perfectly to understand and effectively advocate for changes to systems that directly impact hungry Californians. We have been lending our expertise as part of an alliance of advocates advising the state on an upcoming change to how human services program data is managed. We have written a White Paper based on our research to share data-driven recommendations with leadership at the California Department of Social Services.

We love this stuff, but it can get pretty wonky, so we’re here to help break it down for you!

The Problem

California has three separate data systems to support the health and human services programs that serve more than 13 million Californians. Called “Statewide Automated Welfare Systems” (SAWS), these data systems are used primarily at the county level to handle enrollment and eligibility for several programs, including CalFresh (food stamps, also known as SNAP).

Having three distinct systems has resulted in inconsistent data, inefficient data access, and wide variability in the ability of counties to analyze the data they have. This has a direct impact on the experience of people applying for health and human services benefits like CalFresh. These challenges play a role in California’s terrible CalFresh participation rate – we rank 4th worst in the nation, and dead last among seniors. (Only 21% of eligible seniors currently get CalFresh!)

The Solution: From Three Systems to One by 2023

In 2012, the Federal Nutrition Service mandated that California start to move toward a single SAWS system by the end of 2020. In response, the state has begun the complex process of migrating these three SAWS into one centralized system, referred to as “CalSAWS.” The goal is to transition all 58 counties into the new CalSAWS system by 2023.

This undertaking, which will cost more than a billion dollars, offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine the strengths and limitations of the current SAWS to optimize the new system to best serve California’s most vulnerable individuals and households.

Food Bank Advocates at the Table

Starting in 2018, our Policy & Advocacy team has worked closely with other advocates to advise the state agencies responsible for this transition. We are fighting for a CalSAWS system that makes life easier for people applying for or already participating in human services programs, as well as for the workers who help them access the programs they need. Our goal is to ensure that CalSAWS supports an efficient and user-friendly CalFresh program that can continuously improve on program participation and consumer experience over time.

In practice, this can mean that a working person seeking CalFresh could now be able to call into a contact center that could call her back when there was a long wait time, rather than having to wait on the line for her required interview. We know that the enrollment process can be burdensome, and people get discouraged at many stages throughout the process. Our hope is that an integrated CalSAWS system will take down some of those barriers to participation by putting the human experience at the center of the development.

Research to Drive Improvement

To support this goal, we developed a white paper outlining the essential components for a strong CalSAWS data system.  The paper hones in on three key areas we want California Department of Social Services to prioritize in this process:

  1. Support county and state program staff in identifying opportunities for increased efficiencies for both clients and eligibility workers,
  2. Allow sufficient time and resources for analysis of the effectiveness and uniformity of implementation of policies and procedures,
  3. Identify inequities in outcomes across populations since CalFresh access has historically been particularly burdensome for seniors, non-English Speakers, and the working poor.

To read more our detailed recommendations for improving data systems that support CalFresh program improvement, download the white paper.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work of our Policy & Advocacy team, sign up for our mailing list to get Advocacy Alerts so you can help us spread our message at critical moments. You can also stay engaged and get instant updates by following us on Twitter at @SFMFoodBank and @SFMFB_Advocacy

 

Photo: Jeremiah Carter

Acknowledgements: Research support from Claudia Page, Consultant

Food Policy Spotlight | Protect CalFresh/SNAP

February 13, 2019

Thousands of CalFresh (food stamp) recipients in our community are at risk of losing their benefits and going hungry. We need your help to protest proposed changes for SNAP/food stamp eligibility.

YOUR VOICE MATTERS

Will you take a moment right now to join us and voice your opposition to this harmful proposal?  We only have until April 2nd to step up and protect our neighbors before the rule can be considered final. By adding your opposition to the Federal Register, you’re letting the government know that you won’t support a rule that will increase hunger and poverty in your community.

This proposal would 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.

UNEMPLOYED AND UNDER-EMPLOYED NEIGHBORS AT RISK

The USDA recently announced a proposed rule that would cut off SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits for people who are struggling to find steady work. Regardless of how hard they are looking for work or how few jobs that match their skill sets exist in their area, they could become ineligible for SNAP- after just three months – if they are deemed “able-bodied working adults.”

The proposed rule could also hurt people who have jobs, like this CalFresh client from San Francisco:

“I have a job, but my boss cut my hours and I barely had enough money to make my rent. CalFresh allowed me to eat regularly over the past six months, and I wouldn’t have been able to survive without it.”

CalFresh can often be part of the solution to helping people who are in between jobs by helping them take care of a basic need like food while they are looking for work.  In fact, more than 80 percent of participants are working in the year before or after receiving the benefit, which suggests that it’s helping them stay afloat when they hit hard times.

 

A Letter from Paul | Beyond Election Day

November 8, 2018

Now that the election is behind us, there continues to be much work ahead in the fight against hunger. Hunger is a bi-partisan issue, and we at the Food Bank will continue to work with politicians on both sides of the aisle to advocate for programs that provide food assistance and alleviate poverty.

We invite you to join us.  In the coming months, we’ll need your support on key policy issues, including:

  • 1) The Farm Bill, the biggest driver of U.S. food and farming policy, is overdue for reauthorization. We rely on this vital legislation to put food on the table for millions of low-income Americans because it includes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP,” formerly food stamps and called CalFresh in California). Right now, the House and Senate are working to reconcile their separate versions of the Bill. Some reports indicate that the House will produce a final bill during the lame-duck session, maybe as early as next week.  We will be advocating for a Farm Bill that protects and strengthens SNAP, one of the most efficient and effective solutions to ending hunger and poverty in America.
  • 2) Public Charge: We are alarmed by the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed changes to ‘public charge’ regulations, which would increase hunger and poverty by penalizing immigrants who accept nearly any kind of means-tested public assistance. Participating in programs like CalFresh, Section 8 housing, and Medicaid/Medi-Cal would become reason to deny an immigrant from obtaining lawful permanent residency (a green card) or get admitted to the United States. We don’t believe families should have to choose between putting food on the table and a future in this county. We urge you to help us oppose this proposal by making a public comment before December 10 on the federal register.
  • 3) Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWD): Close to 3,000 people in San Francisco are at risk of losing CalFresh (food stamps) benefits on December 1 because a federal waiver for work requirements will expire. As a result, San Franciscans who are between 18 and 49 years old and have no dependents nor disabilities must work at least 80 hours a month to continue receiving CalFresh benefits.  Regardless of how low the rate of unemployment becomes in our counties, we do not believe withdrawing CalFresh benefits will create a better situation for the recipients or for the community.  We are working closely with our community partners to ensure that everyone at risk of losing CalFresh benefits has been notified, screened for an exemption to retain their benefits, and made aware of other food resources/assistance.

Distributing nearly a million pounds of food every week always feels more urgent during November and December – when we strive to ensure that everyone in our community can enjoy the simple pleasure of a festive, nourishing holiday meal. Please know that while we continue to deliver millions of pounds of food to our community, we will also continue to work with lawmakers and advocates to preserve safety-net services for our most vulnerable neighbors. We have the ear of representatives on the local, state and federal level, and we believe that Food For All should be a motto that the entire country adopts.

Get the latest news about how you can help us advocate by subscribing to our monthly eNews and following us on social media.

With gratitude,

Paul Ash, Executive Director, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank

 

Advocacy Update | Food Bank team goes to Washington, D.C.

March 10, 2018

On Saturday, February 24th, the Food Bank’s Policy and Advocacy team – Becky Gershon and Diana Jensen – boarded a plane for Washington, D.C. to attend the annual National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference and Lobby Day. This conference, hosted every year by Feeding America and the Food Research and Action Center, is an opportunity to connect with hunger advocates from around the county.

The focus this year was the Farm Bill, which is up for review by Congress later this year and includes policies and funding for SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps, called CalFresh in California).The Food Bank and our fellow anti-hunger advocates are on high alert, since this omnibus bill is reauthorized just once every 4 or 5 years, and Republican lawmakers have threatened with funding cuts for SNAP numerous times in recent months.

SUNDAY, March 25

There was plenty to see on Day One of the conference, but the highlight was a panel session that included Charles M. Blow, an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times, and Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. The conversation quickly turned into a back-and-forth on the complex intersection of institutional racism, our education system, income inequality – and how it all relates to food insecurity.  When it was over, the panel received a several-minutes long standing-ovation.

MONDAY, March 26

Monday’s sessions focused on the latest legislative threats to federal nutrition programs like SNAP, strategies for strengthening the federal safety net, ways to alleviate poverty, and how to address issues of economic exclusion. One of the panelists speaking on Monday was Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), who has been a voice for the most vulnerable and a strong advocate for working families.  His speech left no doubt that he will continue to be a leading champion on working to improve and protect SNAP. Whether that means calling out damaging ideas like the recent ‘America’s Harvest Box’ proposal, or overdue strategies, like increasing the benefits to respond to the true cost of living.

TUESDAY, March 27 – Lobby Day

Like in years past, this conference wrapped up on Tuesday with visits to Capitol Hill where our team joined 1,000 anti-hunger advocates to walk the halls of Congress, meet one-on-one with legislators, and urge them to protect SNAP, which benefits over 40 million Americans who might otherwise go hungry.

Becky and Diana kicked off the day by meeting with staff of Senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris.  They explained the critical importance of a strong SNAP program for Californians across the state, and the need to fully fund the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Supplemental Food Program, which help food banks to keep distributing nutritious groceries. In the afternoon, they met with staff from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Jared Huffman.  Both are incredible allies in our local work to end hunger!

In the months ahead as the Farm Bill discussions ramp up, we will stay vigilant, and using our voice to fight for a strong, responsive, and accessible SNAP program for our neighbors in need. We can’t do this work without you!

Check out the #hungerpc18 hashtag on Twitter to see inspiring moments and reflections from the conference.

 

Advocacy Wins 2017

November 1, 2017

We are happy to report that there is a lot to celebrate from California’s 2017 legislative session.

At the beginning of the year, our Policy and Advocacy Team set our sights on 11 bills and two budget issues that we knew could improve food access for our neighbors in need. Throughout the year we wrote letters to our legislators in Sacramento, encouraged our supporters to call their own legislators, and even testified at hearings in the Capitol. And thanks to our partners at the California Association of Food Banks, the California Food Policy Advocates, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty – among many organizations – we saw several important victories in our collective goal to end hunger.  Here are some of the highlights:

Starting in 2018, we will see more State funding for food banks across the state:

  • $8 million for the CalFood fund in 2017-18, which will provide State funding to food banks to purchase more California-grown fruits and vegetables – a big victory considering the fund only received $2 million last year! Thank you to those of you who signed a postcard for Governor Brown or Assemblymember Ting.
  • Senate Bill 61, authored by Senator Hertzberg, will renew and extend the Emergency Food for Families Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund. This will allow taxpayers to keep contributing to the work of food banks in California through their tax returns.

Children and students in California will have better access to nutrition at school:

  • Senate Bill 138, authored by Senator McGuire, will require school districts to identify children who are already on Medi-Cal so that they can automatically be enrolled in free school meals. The legislation also allows very high poverty schools across California to serve universal free breakfast and lunch to all of their students – not just those who are enrolled in free or reduced-price meals.
  • Senate Bill 250, authored by Senator Hertzberg, will ensure that schools cannot deny lunch nor punish students if their parent or guardian hasn’t paid their lunch bill on time.

CalFresh (food stamps) will become easier to access for families and individuals in need:

  • Several bills will make it easier for eligible people to receive and stay on CalFresh benefits starting next year. This includes SB 278, authored by Senator Wiener, which will protect CalFresh participants from penalties related to over-issuances when they were caused by county errors, and SB 282 also authored by Senator Wiener, which will provide clarity to counties on whether they can encourage people to use their CalFresh benefits at restaurants.
  • Assembly Bill 607, authored by Assemblymember Gloria, will streamline and modernize the Disaster-CalFresh program, making it easier and quicker for people to receive benefits in the case of a natural disaster.

You, as supporters of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, empower our Policy & Advocacy team to advance legislation and policies that improve food assistance at the local, state and national level.   For that we say thank you.

Click here to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, so that you can help us to advocate at critical moments in the legislative session in 2018!

Grassroots advocacy achieves CalFood win

July 10, 2017

Thanks to everyone who signed the postcards and letters created by the Food Bank to urge Governor Jerry Brown and Assembly member Phil Ting to fund the CalFood program.  CalFood is a key part of the state budget that allows food banks like ours to efficiently purchase locally produced foods — such as eggs and cheese — which helps families stay nourished.  With your support, our Advocacy Team sent a strong message to Sacramento.  On June 27, Governor Brown signed a new state budget into law, which includes a historic investment in CalFood.

CalFood – formerly the ‘State Emergency Food Assistance Program’ – was created in 2011. The program remained unfunded until last year, when it received a one-time investment of $2 million, which was shared among the many food banks in California. This year, advocates from around the state, led by the California Association of Food Banks, came together to urge our Governor to make a bigger, and more permanent investment.  Thanks to our collective efforts – and your participation – the 2017-2018 budget includes $8 million for CalFood.  In addition, future state budgets include a permanent annual funding stream for CalFood of $6 million annually.

This historic win was a tremendous group effort. Thank you to everyone who advocated for CalFood with us – your voice matters!

Stay tuned for more advocacy opportunities by subscribing to our eNewsletter and Advocacy Alerts.  We’re gearing up to protect federal funding for CalFresh (formerly food stamps) which is expected to face cuts in upcoming Congressional budget proposals.

CalFresh ‘Churn’ Means More Missing Meals in SF and Marin

December 1, 2016

CalFresh – known nationally as SNAP and formerly as ‘food stamps’ – is a cornerstone of our food safety net in California. Almost 4.5 million people participate in CalFresh statewide, and more than 60,000[1] people participate in San Francisco and Marin combined. CalFresh participants receive an “EBT card” – which functions like a debit card that gets replenished with CalFresh benefits each month; participants then use CalFresh benefits to buy food in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Unfortunately, CalFresh churn is a big problem among many recipients.

Churn is when an eligible recipient unexpectedly loses CalFresh benefits, usually because of missed reporting requirements, only to re-enroll within one to three months.

In order to stay on benefits, CalFresh households must report eligibility information periodically. At six months after initial application, participants must notify the county of any household circumstances that have changed through a form called a SAR 7; at one year, they must re-verify all household information and complete an interview. The idea is that household circumstances sometimes change, and having a regularly scheduled time when participants submit documents and verifications ensures their status with CalFresh remains accurate.

But in practice, many households suddenly find themselves with an empty EBT card, unable to buy groceries. Imagine standing at a grocery check-out counter, only to find that your debit card unexpectedly had a $0 balance? What would that mean for feeding your family and paying the rest of your bills that month?

An interruption in CalFresh benefits, even for a month, can have real, damaging consequences for a family that is living on the edge of financial stability. For example, a household with the average CalFresh benefit of $304 per month would lose about 100 meals during the month when benefits are interrupted.

Statewide, one in five Calfresh applications received is from someone who was on CalFresh in the last 90 days.

Why does this happen? Confusion about the semi-annual reporting process, difficult-to-read letters from the county, language barriers, a missed interview, or a recent change in address or phone number can all result in benefits being terminated. It is not difficult to imagine a situation in which a busy family with multiple jobs, hectic schedules of school and childcare, combined with the stress of paying bills and keeping household paperwork in order, could end up missing CalFresh deadlines. Once benefits have been lost, households sometimes have to reapply for benefits all over again.

In addition to hurting recipients, CalFresh churn is inefficient and troublesome for county administrators. Instead of helping new clients enroll or improving the program overall, workers spend valuable time completing new applications for cases which should never have been discontinued in the first place.

We estimate that in San Francisco and Marin, $280,000 in CalFresh money are lost each month due to churn.

Over the next month, the Food Bank Advocacy Team will share a series of blog posts about CalFresh churn. Next week, we will dive into our county-level data in San Francisco and Marin. In subsequent weeks, we will explore more specifically what causes churn, and provide recommendations to diagnose churn and implement effective solutions.

Join us as we explore this topic!

Read more about our work with CalFresh here, and to get all of our advocacy updates, sign up for our Food Policy Spotlight here.

 

[1] DFA 256 Report, August 2016: http://www.dss.cahwnet.gov/research/PG352.htm
[2] CDSS CalFresh Household Profile, FFY, 2014: http://www.calfresh.ca.gov/PG844.htm