As more Californians struggle to make ends meet, participation in CalFresh (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) has surged. Despite record enrollment, state-level data from the United States Department of Agriculture indicate that just over half of all eligible Californians participate in CalFresh. With the nation’s lowest participation rate, California loses out on an estimated $4.9 billion in federal benefits each year, which would generate an estimated $8.7 billion in additional economic activity.
Today, California Food Policy Advocates released its annual Program Access Index (PAI), a county-level analysis estimating CalFresh utilization among low-income individuals. Santa Barbara County ranks 52 out of 58 counties for CalFresh utilization, with the first-ranked county having the highest utilization relative to the number of income-eligible individuals. If CalFresh reached all income-eligible individuals in Santa Barbara County, those currently not participating would receive an estimated $87.1 million in federal nutrition benefits each year.
CalFresh participation remains low for a variety of reasons, including misinformation about eligibility, stigma, and an overly burdensome application process. California has taken significant steps to reduce these barriers. Last October, Governor Brown signed a series of CalFresh bills that removed the fingerprint requirement from the application process, reduced paperwork, and will test strategies to enroll more social security recipients in CalFresh. Further efforts to expand CalFresh participation include integrating CalFresh enrollment with health care reform, expanding data sharing across government programs, and focusing on senior populations that miss out on CalFresh benefits.
For the past 13 years California Food Policy Advocates and the California Department of Social Services have co-sponsored the annual CalFresh Forum, an event that, amongst many other goals, seeks to honor individual Californians and community organizations for their outstanding efforts to improve CalFresh access and participation. Inspiring individuals and organizations are nominated by their peers to receive “Freshy Awards” and winners are chosen by popular vote. The 2012 winners are:
- Assembly Member Felipe Fuentes, won the award for Best Performance by a State Legislator for his leadership on AB 6, the CalFresh Act of 2011, which removed barriers to CalFresh access/participation.
- Julie Salley-Gray won the award for Best Performance by a State Legislative Staff for her hard work and dedication on AB 6, which removed the finger print requirement for CalFresh applicants.
- Cristina Acosta, CA Dept. of Public Health, won the award for Best Performance by a State Employee for her hard work in creating a CalFresh brochure to target seniors for enrollment.
- Dr. Michael Riley, Orange County Social Services Agency, won the award for Best Performance by a County Director for his work coordinating three organizations in effective outreach strategies.
- Jennifer Tracy, San Diego Hunger Coalition, won the award for Best Performance by a Local Advocate for her dedication to implementing recent legislative changes and participating in CalFresh initiatives.
- Pedro Toledo, Healthy Kids Sonoma County, also won the award for Best Performance by a Local Advocate for his commitment to enrolling rural households in CalFresh.
- Nora Baca, Family Health Care Network, won the special Central Valley category award for Best Performance by a Local Advocate for her diligent CalFresh outreach work in Tulare County.
- Dr. Ed Moreno, Fresno County Dept. of Public Health, won the award for Central Valley - Best Performance by a County Employee for embracing CalFresh as a health prevention program and improving access to healthy foods.
§ To access CFPA’s Program Access Index, which provides a county by county estimate of CalFresh utilization among low-income communities, visit: http://cfpa.net/pai-2012
§ To access the Lost Dollars, Empty Plates report, which examines the impact of CalFresh participation on California’s state and local economies, visit: http://cfpa.net/lost-dollars-empty-plates-2012
§ To access the estimated loss of federal benefits and associated economic activity in each of California’s 58 counties, visit: http://cfpa.net/lost-dollars-empty-plates-2012