Advocating for Long-Term Change to End Senior Hunger

May 28, 2020

Food In Crisis, and Every Day

We’ve all seen the images of cars lined up for miles, waiting to get groceries.  We’ve witnessed thousands of our neighbors, standing six feet apart, waiting in lines snaking around city blocks in our neighborhoods to pick up food for their families.  We’ve read with disbelief the unemployment numbers, growing by millions with every passing week. We’ve rushed to aid our senior neighbors and relatives, sheltering in place and unable to access resources safely.  We know that we are in a moment of historic highs for hunger in our community.

But here at the Food Bank, we have known that hunger has been a crisis for thousands of our fellow San Francisco and Marin residents long before the COVID-19 pandemic.  That’s why we not only provide free weekly groceries to people experiencing an acute need for food in the moment, but also have invested in long-term policy advocacy to combat hunger at the systemic level.

CalFresh is a Proven Solution

As a proven positive public health intervention and powerful economic stabilizer, CalFresh has a critical dual role to play in California’s immediate and long-term COVID-19 response. Yet, only 19 percent of eligible older Californians (age 60 or over) receive CalFresh, the lowest participation rate of any state.  Here in California, the average monthly benefit for a senior is $158, making it especially worth their while to apply. Yet seniors represent the population with the greatest gap between their eligibility for SNAP and their enrollment in the program, due in large part to the administrative hurdles of applying for the program as a senior.

Legislation for Change

We’re working to change that and make it easier for eligible older Californians to get the benefits to which they’re entitled.  We’re co-sponsoring a bill in the CA State Senate (SB 882 – Wiener) that would simplify the CalFresh application for many older adults and people with disabilities, while also making permanent several key changes to increase access to CalFresh during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The current application is 18 pages long!  When is the last time you had to fill out an 18-page application for anything?

SB 882 would eliminate burdensome, ongoing reporting requirements that cause many households to lose nutrition assistance, even when they remain eligible. SB 882 would also ensure that all applicants and participants can complete the application and recertification interview processes by phone, including submitting the required client signature. This is crucial for older adults with limited mobility and access to reliable transportation.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to make clear, meeting the nutritional needs of low-income households is an urgent and ongoing need. No one should go hungry in California, and it is our collective responsibility to use all the tools we have to make it easier to access our most powerful anti-hunger tool, CalFresh.

Feeding Our Kids During the Pandemic

May 13, 2020

Hunger Intensifies for Families With Kids Out of School

Before the pandemic, over 40,000 families in San Francisco and Marin had children who received free or reduced-price meals each day at school. This helped ease the financial burden on hard-working low-income families and ensured that kids were getting the nutrition they needed to thrive in and out of school. 

Since schools closed, these families have been scrambling to find resources to feed their kids when work has become scarce and support networks have been strained. We see so many of these parents picking up groceries at our Pop-up pantries while they wait for unemployment insurance or CalFresh benefits to arrive. 

New research explores how dramatically the economic collapse has deepened food insecurity, with nearly one in five children not getting enough to eat. That rate is three times higher than in 2008, at the height of the Great Recession. Our pantry programs help, but we need a stronger social safety net to help families in crisis. 

Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) Can Help

Thanks to fierce advocacy from anti-hunger groups including the Food Bank, families whose children typically receive free school lunch will now be able to receive up to $365 per child on a debit card to purchase food through a new program called Pandemic EBT (P-EBT).  Enacted in March in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, P-EBT was created to help compensate for those missing school meals.  Families whose children receive CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or are in foster care will automatically receive this card in the mail between May 8 and May 22.  For those who don’t automatically qualify, a short application will be available on May 22. 

Families will be able to use this money to purchase groceries at most grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and at select online retailers. Receiving P-EBT does not jeopardize a person’s immigration status and is not included in public charge determinations. Families are also still encouraged to pick up free to-go meals from school meal sites in their neighborhoods. 

 More Action is Needed to End Hunger

This will be a tremendous help for many struggling to put food on the table, but it is insufficient to fill the staggering need among families in our community. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and it will take all of us to urge lawmakers to prioritize policy solutions to feed our children, too. 

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 ensure the well-being of millions of children. Ask them to: 

  • boost the SNAP maximum benefit by 15%; 
  • increase the minimum monthly SNAP benefit from $16 to $30; 
  • suspend any administrative actions that eliminate or weaken SNAP benefits. 

 

Food Insecurity Town Hall

April 29, 2020

Last night, we were proud to participate in a digital Town Hall Meeting on food insecurity during the COVID19 crisis, hosted by San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener. Over 2,200 people watched on Facebook and Zoom as our Executive Director, Paul Ash, joined leaders from fellow Bay Area non-profits working to ensure no one in our community goes hungry during this difficult time. 

Food Providers Adapting To Meet the Growing Need 

Senator Wiener was joined by the leaders of Meals on Wheels SFSt. Anthony’sSecond Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley, and the CA Association of Food Banks. Each organization is reporting exponential growth in the number of people in need of food assistance since the crisis hit. In the face of significant challenges — including operating with only 60% of their workforce and fewer volunteers, having to rethink how to prepare thousands of meals while keeping cooks 6 feet apart, and compensating for closed pantries — the organizations are continuing to step up to feed more of our neighbors facing hunger. As Executive Director Jose Ramirez of St. Anthony’s shared, “We’re really leaning on each other and learning what it means to be a community.” 

“We should not go back to the ‘old normal'” 

The Town Hall also focused on the ways that COVID-19 has helped advocates advance policy recommendations that improve food access. The crisis has actually allowed us to secure improvements to the CalFresh program for which advocates have been fighting for many years. These include the expansion of online purchasing using CalFresh benefits, allowing for the application process to be done entirely over the phone, and waiving the interview requirement. 

The Food Bank is co-sponsoring a bill in the State Senate, authored by Senator Wiener, that aims to make some of these program flexibilities permanent.  SB 882 – CalFresh: Simpler for Seniors – would make it easier for eligible low-income Californians to sign up and stay connected to CalFresh, particularly older adults and people with disabilities, many of whom have been hit hardest by the COVID crisis. 

We are In This Together 

As our colleague Jose from St. Anthony’s shared last night, “This is an opportunity to reflect on our priorities as a city, as a community, and as a country. We have to address food insecurity as the crisis that it is. It’s about human connection and compassion – putting people first, leading with compassion, and letting the rest fall into place.” 

You can catch the townhall here.

Feeding Kids During COVID19

April 21, 2020

Schools May Be Closed, but Hunger Persists 

Last year, 9,000 kids in Marin and 30,300 kids in San Francisco received free or reduced-price meals every day at school.  When their schools shuttered last month to combat the spread of COVID19, families were left wondering how they would be able to feed their children while they were at home. 

Child Nutrition Advocates Push for Policies to Feed Our Kids 

In response, we advocated for policymakers at all levels of government to act quickly to ensure that children would not suffer from hunger during this public health crisis.    

Here are three of the advocacy wins that are helping children continue to access the food they need to grow and thrive, even during these challenging times: 

  1. Children of all ages can access grab-and-go school meals during COVID-related school closures.  The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) flexibility in cutting through some of the administrative red tape that typically governs child nutrition programs. Now, schools and other participating sites can provide grab-and-go meals and home-delivered meals to eligible children while their schools are closed. In San Francisco, the Food Bank is also working with the Unified School District to locating our Pop-Up Pantries at school sites that serve free to-go school meals. The “CA Meals for Kids” mobile app is available to help families find participating sites. Read more about our emergency pop-ups here.  
  2. Low-income families will receive money to buy food through Pandemic EBT. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also established a new program called Pandemic EBT, which will offer a quick and easy way to get food to school-age students by providing funds on a credit-like card for children who are eligible to receive free and reduced-price school lunch. The California Department of Social Services is working with the California Department of Education to efficiently deliver benefits to all families who qualify without anyone having to submit an application. 
  3. Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) Program gets a boost. WIC is a federal nutrition program helping pregnant people, new mothers, and their children access vital nutrition in their formative years.  The Families First Act provides $500 million in additional WIC funds to ensure that the program can serve more people as the economic downturn worsens, and also loosens regulatory requirements during the pandemic.  California was granted flexibility in reducing the administrative and regulatory burdens typically placed on WIC recipients, including temporarily halting in-person meeting requirements and blood tests, as well as expanding the foods that families can buy with their WIC card. 

#InThisTogether: Policymakers Support Food Banks

April 16, 2020

Advocacy in the Age of Shelter in Place 

Every April, our Policy & Advocacy team joins advocates from food banks statewide in Sacramento to meet with our elected leaders.Typically, our Capitol Action Day is an exciting time to gather with fellow advocates and elected champions to rally around our shared anti-hunger priorities and push for policies and programs that help our communities. In our new COVID-19 reality, we continued the tradition but shifted our meetings with lawmakers to video chats. 

The Need is More Urgent Than Ever 

With food banks across the state and throughout the country seeing unprecedented demand for food in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, our legislative priority was clear: fund food banks. When disasters strike, food banks find themselves on the front lines of response. Last week, we served 40,000 households, 10,000 more than just a few weeks ago, and our lines are only getting longer. We asked our State Senators and Assemblymembers to support our budget requests for additional state funding to help continue to serve the increased need. 

#InThisTogether 

During this crisis,  San Francisco and Marin State policymakers have shown incredible support for the Food Bank and our mission. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been pleased to host many of our Assemblymembers, Senators, and County Supervisors at our Pop-up pantries. They have rolled up their sleeves, donned masks, and shown up to help feed their communities. We couldn’t do what we do without their ongoing support, both in their districts and in Sacramento. 

 

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.

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:

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.