SECTION 1. (a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(1) Inadequate nutrition and food insecurity threatens the health of 3.7 million low-income adults and over 2 million children in California, leading to adverse health outcomes among children, and increased risk of chronic disease, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, yet nearly 1.7 million eligible Californians are not receiving CalFresh nutrition benefits.
(2) The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased food insecurity among low-income Californians, and disproportionately impacted
Black and Latinx individuals.
(3) The average CalFresh benefit in California is $136 per person per month. If the state enrolled the 2 million eligible, but not participating, Californians into CalFresh, it would draw up to $2.1 billion in federal food benefits to the state annually, which would also significantly help farmers, grocers, and the local economy.
(4) While working poor Californians struggle with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and struggle to meet their basic needs like food and housing, California ranks fourth to last in the nation at connecting working poor households to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known in California as CalFresh.
(5) California’s seniors are enduring
the most severe health consequences of the pandemic, including experiencing hunger and poverty. Yet, California ranks last in the nation at connecting seniors to SNAP, known in California as CalFresh, despite recent
policy changes to simplify enrollment processes and medical deductions for seniors.
(6) CalFresh has undergone several significant changes over the past several years, including all of the following:
(A) Reduced barriers to enrollment by removing asset test and finger imaging requirements.
(B) Increased guidance to make online and phone applications more widely available so that residents can apply for benefits without visiting an office, similar to Medi-Cal.
(C) Interdepartmental collaboration to improve horizontal integration among social service programs, including CalFresh, Medi-Cal, CalWORKs, and the California Special Supplemental Nutrition
Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC Program).
(D) Reversal of the longstanding Supplemental Security Income (SSI) “cashout” policy, which
provided a pivotal opportunity to establish CalFresh eligibility for has resulted in the enrollment of over 400,000 seniors and disabled Californians receiving SSI benefits.
(7) Given these changes in CalFresh and the need to connect health and nutrition, particularly for seniors and newly eligible SSI recipients, the time is right to improve CalFresh entry points and ensure statewide equitable access by telephone to reduce the burden of applying for
benefits and enrolling vulnerable individuals.
(b) It is the intent of the Legislature to maximize the impact of federal safety net funding to reduce poverty, fight hunger, and improve health by simplifying enrollment and maintaining access to CalFresh for all eligible, low-income Californians.