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.

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.

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!

 

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