Finding the “Missing 3,000” who Need—and Deserve—Food Support

Finding the “Missing 3,000” who Need—and Deserve—Food Support

The easing of COVID restrictions brought welcome relief and normalcy to Santa Clara County this spring. However, with pandemic-related economic protections dwindling in tandem, we must be ever aware that there are folks in our community who continue to struggle.

Food insecurity is one example. It’s sometimes tough for those who are doing OK to imagine that some of our neighbors, friends, or colleagues are going without food. But the problem is real, and more widespread than is often understood—including in my district (District Five).

CalFresh, a federally-funded, County-administered supplemental nutrition assistance program (sometimes known as “food stamps”) is vital for low-income, food-insecure families and individuals.

Yet more eligible West Valley/North County residents are left out of CalFresh than anywhere else in Santa Clara County. Only 19% of the residents in my district who receive other public benefits also receive CalFresh benefits, compared to 26% or 27% in the County’s other four districts, according to the County’s most recent report on public assistance programs.

That means there are more than 3,000 residents in my area who could and should be receiving food benefits who aren’t getting them. They are going without. And that has very real consequences in terms of hunger, nutrition, and quality of life.

My goal is to connect those 3,000 people with the food assistance they need—and deserve. It makes no sense at all to leave federal funding on the table when local folks can’t put food on the table.

Food insecurity rose drastically during the economic recession caused by the pandemic. In fact, after the shelter-in-place order occurred in March 2020, CalFresh applications in Santa Clara County doubled from an average of 4,000 monthly to more than 8,000 in April 2020.

Now, with the eviction moratorium and other pandemic-related assistance disappearing, vulnerable families and individuals—often seniors or students—are facing renewed hardship. Food budgets are one of the few things people can cut when money is tight. Programs like CalFresh alleviate some of that burden while people get back on their feet.

Clearly, not everyone who is eligible for CalFresh in the West Valley and North County has reached out for help. There may be language barriers, confusion about eligibility, or simply lack of awareness that the program exists. Potential applicants may be daunted by the enrollment process. Others may struggle with the stigma of needing assistance.

Whatever the reason, we need to do a better and smarter job of getting the word out about CalFresh, and overcoming the obstacles. This month I’ll be launching an outreach campaign to do just that for the residents of my district.

It’s easy to apply for CalFresh, easy to access the benefits, and discreet. (The literal “food stamps” booklet that gave the program it’s nickname? It no longer exists. Participants use an Electronic Benefits Transfer—EBT—card that looks like any other debit card.) It may help you to know:

  • CalFresh cards are accepted at most Farmers' Markets. Some markets even "double your money" up to a certain amount through Market Match;
  • For California grown fruits and vegetables purchased at qualifying grocery stores, every $1 spent is $1 earned with Double Up Food Bucks to be spent on your next visit;
  • CalFresh cards can be used to purchase groceries online, including, in California: Albertsons, Amazon, Safeway, Vons, and Walmart;
  • For CalFresh recipients who are 60+ years old, disabled, or homeless, there is  a Restaurant Meals Program;
  • A free CalFresh Employment & Training program helps recipients gain skills, education, and work experience to access to better jobs and higher wages; and,
  • SSI/SSP recipients may be eligible for CalFresh without negatively affecting their monthly benefit.

In short, CalFresh is “free money,” that stretches food budgets and allows low-income individuals and families in California to afford better nutrition, including more fruit, vegetables, and other healthy foods. Every little bit helps. If you—or someone you know—needs food support, please visit GetCalFresh.org. Anyone who needs help figuring out if they qualify or filling out the application should feel free to call our office: (408) 299-5050.

 

Joe Simitian
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

This article was originally published in The Outlook in April 2022.

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