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

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

Big victories in Sacramento in 2018

June 22, 2018

2018 has been a big year for State budget advocacy. From a huge victory for seniors and people with disabilities, to greater support for food banks – we are grateful for our local legislators who have been allies every step of the way!

SSI recipients and CalFresh!

SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is a program that provides modest monthly grants to seniors and people with disabilities living on a low income. The maximum grant for an individual is about $910 per month. Due to a harmful state policy enacted in 1974, people on SSI have been barred from applying for CalFresh benefits.  In fact, California was the only state in the country where being on SSI made you ineligible for CalFresh.

But this year – thanks to fierce advocacy from Californians for SSI, a coalition of organizations and SSI recipients from across California – the Legislature and Governor Brown took action to end this policy. Starting in the summer of 2019, SSI recipients will be able to apply for CalFresh!

“This is a historic victory for the 46,000 people living on SSI in San Francisco and Marin counties, and is the single biggest advancement in the fight against hunger in many decades,” says Becky Gershon, Policy and Advocacy Manager for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.

Meanwhile, living on SSI is still quite a struggle, especially in high-rent counties like San Francisco and Marin. Check out our latest video from an SSI listening session, hosted by St. Anthony’s Foundation:

Increased $$ for food banks!

Operating food banks requires infrastructure: trucks, refrigeration units, pallet jacks, forklifts, and all sorts of other equipment that helps to keep fresh groceries moving. Unfortunately, equipment can get old, and break down, but ask any food bank operations manager and they’ll say they’d rather spend money on food to nourish more people than upgrades to infrastructure. We started a postcard writing campaign, urging Governor Brown to set aside funding for Food Bank infrastructure, and it worked.  The Governor approved $5.5 million in state funding this year to help food banks with the cost of upgrades!

We also sent postcards, signed by many of our supporters and volunteers, urging the Governor to include more funding for the CalFood program, which gives money to food banks to be able to purchase California grown foods.  Governor Brown came through again, allocating $8 million to that program.  Both funding measures will be shared among the 40+ food banks in California.

Thank you to all of you who signed these postcards during volunteer shifts in our warehouse, or those who signed our email petition. We believe that this collective effort played a role in the Governor’s decision-making.

Stay Connected!

Throughout the rest of the summer, the Food Bank’s Policy and Advocacy team will be working hard to promoting more State legislation that we have identified as important steps towards ending hunger. You can see the full list here.  We also urge you to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, so you can help us spread our message at critical moments. Finally, stay engaged and get instant updates by following us on Twitter at @SFMFB_Advocacy.