Pass the EATS Act

June 29, 2022

You can’t learn when you’re hungry. Yet, as many as 1 in 4 college students who struggle with food insecurity can’t receive CalFresh benefits (food stamps). Our Policy and Advocacy team is working to change this by lobbying Congress to pass the Federal EATS Act.  

CalFresh is one of the most important tools for addressing food insecurity and hunger. Recipients can shop for the groceries they want, when they want, by spending their monthly benefits at participating grocery stores and farmers markets. Unfortunately, students from low-income backgrounds are largely unable to access CalFresh because of barriers like a 20 hour/week work requirement. “The work requirement is an archaic rule that requires students to be working hours that they don’t have,” explained Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.  

Eased Restrictions, Increased Participation

The current “work-for-food” rules are based on assumptions of a “typical” college student – upper middle class, with endless free time and family support. In reality, there is no typical student. Between required labs, rotations, and residencies, working to pay their bills, and even supporting families, many students simply don’t have 20 free hours in their week. School is work. Extra barriers to healthy groceries can spell the difference between obtaining a degree and halting their education. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 got rid of this “work-for-food” rule – temporarily – and the results were immediate. “During the pandemic, restrictions like the work requirement were lifted, and more college students were able to access CalFresh. So, we’ve seen that it doesn’t have to be so hard to get more students in the program,” said Meg.  

School is Work

However, expanded CalFresh eligibility for students is set to expire just one month after the federal Public Health Emergency is declared over. That’s where the Federal EATS Act – and you – come into the picture. The Federal EATS Act would permanently expand CalFresh access to low-income students by making attendance at an “institution of higher education” count as their work requirement. “The EATS Act recognizes that school is work,” said Marchon Tatmon, Government Affairs Manager at the Food Bank. “This bill will allow students to access the nutrition they need.” We need your help to make sure all students have access to healthy groceries that fuel their learning. You can sign up for Action Alerts and get involved through our email list: sfmfoodbank.org/advocacy. Let’s urge Congress to pass this permanent legislative fix for college hunger, together.  

“Not Part-time Employees”

June 28, 2022

CalFresh is supposed to be the first line of defense against hunger, but that’s often not the case for college students. For Dustin and Anthony, two among thousands of college students facing food insecurity, the Federal EATS Act would make a huge difference. Dustin is an LGBT Studies major and first-generation college student at City College of SF. Like many other students, Dustin turns to the Food Bank to stock his fridge and pantry. CalFresh isn’t an accessible option for him because of the work requirements and red tape in the application process. “I do not have the support of parents sending me through college, so I utilize the Food Bank when I don’t have funds,” Dustin told us at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry in March.  

School Comes First 

Anthony is a graduate student at UCSF, currently in his second year of the dentistry program. He’s been a recipient of CalFresh on and off since 2018. When we spoke on the phone, he laid out his simple problem with the work requirement for students. “When you’re in a rigorous academic program, you don’t really have much time to study if you’re working to make ends meet. It puts a lot of stress on students who are now focusing more on working instead of studying. We are full-time students, not part-time employees.”  

Not Enough Time in the Day 

For students who come from low-income backgrounds, a college degree holds the promise of less financial struggle in the future. Getting that degree, however, is not easy. And dedicating 20 hours of precious study time a week to a job, just so that you can buy groceries, doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a vicious cycle that forces students to choose between their studies and their survival. That’s why students like Anthony are such strong supporters of passing the Federal EATS Act. “I know countless friends and family members who are college students and could greatly benefit from CalFresh. With the EATS Act, if we remove these barriers then people will have much easier access to food.” 

Sandy’s Story | Grocery Delivery Makes the Difference

July 30, 2020

Before the pandemic, Sandy performed as a fiddler at festivals. And before that, as a young woman, she was an activist. She’s a mother and a grandmother with a zest for life.

She also knows what it’s like to experience hunger.

When she was a child living in Northern Ireland, there were times she and her brother would have to split what little food they had.

“I remember a time we split one scrambled egg,” she recalls. “Hunger has always been something. Not ‘I missed lunch,’ but true hunger.”

And now after 48 years in San Francisco, living through so much of this city’s rich and vibrant history, she is experiencing the challenges of living on a fixed income amidst the rising cost of living in the Richmond District.

“I’m living on my savings and I also get retirement. The rent here is $840 a month. I thank God it is only that. And my check is about 800 and…,” she pauses to think. “It’s close, I mean they are right next to each other.”

COVID-19: A Challenge for Seniors

Even before the pandemicone in seven adults between the ages of 50 and 80 nationwide were food insecure. For many low-income seniors, the Food Bank was a lifeline, helping ensure they weren’t choosing between affording food and paying rent.

COVID-19 suddenly threw a new impossible choice into the mix: choosing between risking your health to pick up much-needed food or go without it. To guarantee they wouldn’t have to make that choice, we started grocery delivery to 12,000 low-income seniors in our community every week.

To aid in these efforts, the USDA also granted a waiver that allowed Amazon to deliver senior boxes from the Supplemental Food Program (SFP), which provides a monthly box of mostly shelf-stable food to seniors living at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.

While we look forward to bringing seniors back to the community centers, churches, and other weekly pantries locations, the recent spike in COVID-19 cases makes it clear: seniors like Sandy are still vulnerable.

Grocery Delivery Makes All the Difference

When Sandy’s husband was still alive, the couple relied on the monthly SFP food boxes. But her health challenges made picking up the SFP box difficult, and after her husband was killed, she stopped coming.

Even after she stopped picking up her SFP box, she kept in touch with Shirley Chen, senior program manager at the Food Bank. And in March, Shirley was able to connect her with our CalFresh team who signed her up for benefits, enroll in our Pantry at Home program, and even help her get her SFP box delivered straight to her door.

Unfortunately, the USDA ended the waiver allowing us to deliver SFP boxes for seniors shelter at home in June, making her Pantry at Home deliveries and CalFresh benefits even more crucial.

Thanks to the Food Bank, and the help of its caring staff members and volunteers, Sandy said she hasn’t been so well fed in a long time. “Do you know how long it has been since I could buy a rolled pork roast? My family came over and shared it with me. It fed 5 of us.”

In a time when we just don’t know what tomorrow will bring, the generosity of the Food Bank staff and her neighbors who make these deliveries means a lot. “I’m terribly grateful.”

Hailey’s Story | The Helpers Need Help Sometimes 

November 13, 2018

Someday, UC San Francisco medical student Hailey hopes to save many lives – but for right now, she is the one who needs a little bit of saving.

The 25-year-old has her sights set on becoming a surgeon. But living in San Francisco and attending one of the most prestigious medical schools in all the land has its drawbacks – specifically, the cost of living.  “I don’t have an income right now – it’s all student loans – so every month is a struggle when it comes to paying rent and surviving,” she says.

Hailey recently learned she was eligible to enroll in CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps. The Food Bank has an entire team of employees, dedicated to helping eligible individuals enroll in the program. One of the most successful locations, in terms of sign-ups, is the UCSF Parnassus campus.

Now, Hailey gets $190 from CalFresh to spend on groceries.  “It’s given me flexibility in my monthly budgeting and has allowed me to make healthier choices every day.”

She’s not alone. Since the beginning of the year, the Food Bank has worked with campus officials and the San Francisco Human Services Agency to make CalFresh a part of UCSF’s overall financial aid strategy. Enrollment events were held once or twice a month during the fall semester, and the program is really starting to take off.

“Since we started working with UCSF early this year, 186 students have been approved for CalFresh through our events, resulting in over $34,000 a month in benefits,” says Food Bank CalFresh Outreach Manager, Francesca Costa. “We are so grateful for UCSF’s partnership in supporting students through the CalFresh application process. The tearful hugs and deep gratitude from students we have helped enroll make it clear that we are meeting an important need here on campus.”

 

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

 

Sarah’s Story | Second Chance with CalFresh

May 1, 2018

Sarah breaks out her CalFresh (food stamps) EBT card at a neighborhood supermarket and gives a relieved smile because she is able to purchase the healthy, fresh vegetables that she needs to maintain and improve her health.

Every year, the Food Bank helps hundreds of neighbors like Sarah enroll in CalFresh because we know that accessing healthy food is essential for low-income neighbors who are striving to overcome challenges.

Bad luck and broken dreams

It was several years ago when Sarah suffered a pair of episodes that cast a dark cloud over her life.  In 2011, while walking up a flight of stairs on a rainy night, she slipped and tumbled over the banister, free falling two stories to the ground below. “I still have a lot of pain and range-of-motion issues, not to mention some emotional scars, from that fall,” She recounts.  Then, not even a year later, her father passed away after a long illness.  The pain from her fall, and the pain of losing her father combined to launch Sarah into a state of deep depression. She lost her job and eventually her apartment and became homeless.

Before these misfortunes, Sarah dreamed of owning her own health spa. She grew up in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood in an upper-middle class home. After high school, Sarah moved to Los Angeles to “make her mark on the world.”  But when her father started having health issues, she moved back to the Bay Area to be closer to him.  Sarah found a job in a high-end health spa in Sausalito and really took to it.  “I had a real knack for working in that place, and I thought I was going to own my own spa business one day,” she says.

Building a better life

Today, lingering health challenges have made it hard for Sarah to find work. But that hasn’t stopped her from striving for a better life.  She recently secured her own apartment, is receiving treatment for her injuries, and is eating healthier thanks to her CalFresh benefits.

“I get about $180 a month through CalFresh, which is a big help by allowing me to buy fresh vegetables and protein and other things,” she says. “When I finally get back on my feet financially, I hope to stop getting CalFresh.  But for now, it really is a life-saving thing for me.”

Take Action for CalFresh

Unfortunately, her worrying isn’t over. Sarah says she’s fearful that politicians will cut much of the funding for CalFresh when they vote on the 2018 Farm Bill. Losing CalFresh could send her spiraling back to her darkest days.

“If I had a chance to tell a politician about CalFresh, I would say it’s working, that it’s helping people like me be better,” Sarah says. “If anything, more money needs to be added to the program, not less, because there are people in this city who are way worse off than me.”

If you are in need of CalFresh benefits, the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach team can help; learn more by clicking here.

If you want to help neighbors like Sarah move forward and realize their dreams, sign up for our Policy and Advocacy Newsletter and we’ll send you alerts when we need your help with petitions and phone calls to elected officials.