ATC advocacy has resulted in major changes to CalFresh operations that boost participation:
Photo: Advocates from the Alliance in Sacramento to meet with the Governor's Office.
Why Transform CalFresh (food stamps)?
Simply put, California has long had one of the worst food stamp participation rates in the nation and currently has a second-to-last standing among states. According to the USDA’s most recent report, for 2014, only 66% of eligible households are signed up for the benefits they qualify for, compared to 83% nationally.
Every day, nearly six million Californians face hunger or the fear of going hungry.CalFresh – California’s name for the federal food stamp program – is a critical support for many of those facing hunger, providing an average of $330 per household per month for groceries.
However, our State’s historically low participation rate means that over 3 million people are not receiving the $2.5 billion in federal food benefits for which they qualify for food, according to the California Food Policy Advocates. This low rate of participation also means that California is losing 4.5 billion in economic activity that CalFresh usage could generate for our state and, in particular, our food and agriculture sectors.
A Bold Vision: The Alliance to Transform CalFresh
The reasons for this stubbornly low participation rate are many and complex, and anti-hunger groups had been working for years to change the situation. But the numbers just weren’t budging. So in 2011, the SF-Marin Food Bank organized a summit of over two dozen state and national anti-hunger groups, foundations, and the USDA at the Sierra Health Foundation. Out of that forum came a newly-formed coalition dedicated to dramatically increasing the CalFresh participation rate, and convened by CAFB: the Alliance to Transform CalFresh.
The Alliance set for itself a bold vision:
In 5 years—by 2016—California becomes a top 10 state for access to SNAP, with at least a 75% participation rate.
Progress to Date
As of Spring 2015, progress is being made to increase participation by eligible people to appropriate levels and catch up with national rates of access:
- The number of people participating in CalFresh has risen dramatically in recent years, and the percent of eligible people participating has climbed too (from below 50% to over 60%), due to the sharp economic recession, implementation of long-overdue policy reforms, modernization of some county operations, and tireless community outreach.
- In early 2015, the total numbers of people enrolled in CalFresh are now leveling off, as unemployment drops and wages increase, but there is still great potential to increase participation rates among those eligible and catch up with national rates, through targeted improvements to county operations, state and federal policy, and community outreach
- Beginning in 2014, a new County Advocate Program builds data-driven partnership between community-based advocates and the counties that operate CalFresh, in order to increase county participation rates and streamline administrative processes.
Three Key Strategies
Convener: The California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) and its Executive Director, Sue Sigler
Members: CAFB, California Family Resource Association, California Food Policy Advocates, Catholic Charities of California, Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, SF-Marin Food Bank, and Western Center on Law and Poverty
Key national supporters and advisors: The USDA and its Western Region Office, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Feeding America, and the Food Research and Action Center
Funders: The Sierra Health Foundation, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Kaiser Foundation, The California Endowment, California HealthCare Foundation, Share Our Strength, Walmart Foundation, and Food Research and Action Center
Contact: Andrew Cheyne, Policy Director, at
510-350-9915 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Integrate CalFresh with the Affordable Care Act
The Alliance immediately identified the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as the largest opportunity for CalFresh participation gains – in the next few years and even in a generation. The Alliance is leading the charge to ensure that CalFresh enrollment is integrated into the ACA process. Learn more.
- Implement Same Day Service
Families in crisis need food assistance quickly. Hungry kids can’t wait 30 days to start receiving benefits. The Alliance is pushing hard for California to become the next state to adopt Same Day Service in all counties.
- Drive Toward Zero Churn
Too many participating families are losing CalFresh benefits due to administrative reasons, even though they are still eligible and still need food. This leads to more hardship and often a re-application, which creates redundant work for counties and families. The Alliance is promoting state and county redesign of the customer service processes that lead to churn.
Please visit the Alliance To Transform CalFresh website to learn more about our accomplishments to date and our plans for achieving our 5-year, 75% (or top ten standing) participation goal by 2016. To learn about ways to support the Alliance’s efforts, please contact Andrew Cheyne, Policy Director, at 510-350-9915 or email@example.com.
One Stop Health Nutrition - the Alliance's on-line toolkit to boost dual participation in CalFresh & Medi-Cal.