Alliance to Transform CalFresh
An Alliance of leading non-profit organizations has come together to advance an ambitious but pragmatic goal: move California from a 50% participation rate (among the last in the nation) to a 75% participation rate (top ten in the nation) in the next five years. Founding members include the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB), CA Family Resource Association, California Food Policy Advocates, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and Catholic Charities of CA United, in consultation with national leaders Feeding America, the Food Research and Action Center, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food, Nutrition & Consumer Services; the California Department of Social Services; and the County Welfare Directors Association of California all have briefed the Alliance.
Opportunities to Transform CalFresh
Five million Californians every day face hunger or the fear of going hungry. California’s CalFresh – our State’s name for the federal food stamp program -- is a critical support for many of those facing hunger, providing an average of $146.52 per person per month for groceries.
However, our State’s historically low participation rate – among the worst in the nation, according to the USDA -- means that over 3.6 million people are not receiving the $4.9 billion in federal benefits for which they qualify for food. This low rate of participation also means that California is losing $8.7 billion in economic activity that CalFresh usage could generate for our state and, in particular, our food and agriculture sectors. California also pays among the highest administrative costs in the country, according to the USDA; options to increase cost-effectiveness without compromising service deserve careful consideration.
Recent press has put a spotlight on California’s poor participation rate and some of the solutions urgently needed, including statewide standards for simpler program rules, modern customer service, and connections to health coverage:
- New American Media, "New Express Lane Links Food Stamp Recipients to Health Care"
- The Atlantic Cities, "What Really Happens when you Sign Up for Food Stamps"
- Medium, "People Not Data: On Disdain and Empathy in Civic Tech"
- Code for America, "CalFresh for 7 months: A Timeline of Paperwork"
- LA Times article, “California Discourages Needy from Signing up for Food Stamps”
- LA Times editorial, “A Good Deal for All Californians”
- LA Times editorial cartoon, “California’s Food Stamp Shame”
- Sacramento Bee editorial, “Health Reform Could Boost Use of Food Stamps”
- Sacramento Bee letter, “Linking Medi-Cal, CalFresh enrollment gets food to people”
- Fresno Bee editorial, “Chance to get Food Stamps to More Hungry Folks”
- Ocean Beach Rag column, “CA has the Lowest Rate of Food Stamp Participation in the Union”
- SF Chronicle editorial, “Too many Californians left without Food Stamps”
Three Major Opportunities Exist Now to Transform CalFresh, Help Families, and Boost the Economy
1) Create Statewide Policies & Processes to Guarantee Equal and Excellent Access to Nutrition Benefits in All Counties. California could adopt and implement uniform statewide policies and procedures that create high quality experiences for participants in all counties. These standards could be built on leading counties’ (and other states’) best practices, such as same day service. In some cases, state and federal rules must be simplified and aligned. Not only will these standards better serve customers; they can also bring more federal dollars into the state and potentially result in additional cost savings. By contrast, “realigning” CalFresh in such a way as to allow for more local variation in customer service is not best for individual consumers or the overall state participation rate.
- CDSS: New Data Dashboard for CalFresh Performance in All Counties (January 2014)
- A Statewide CalFresh Participation Plan (September 2013)
- CalFresh Funding Fact Sheet (July 2013)
- Increasing Participation in CalFresh PowerPoint by Stacy Dean, CBPP (July 2012)
- Alliance Recommendations on Senior and Immigrant Participation (June 2012)
- Alliance Blueprint to Transform CalFresh (August 2011)
- Alliance Letter on Governor Brown's 2011 Proposal to Realign CalFresh(August 2011)
2) Integrate with Health Care Reform to Reach All Consumers Eligible for Both Health and Nutrition Assistance. California could take advantage of the one-time unique opportunity to connect CalFresh with the recently enacted Affordable Care Act (ACA), by leveraging new funds, technology, and processes to ensure dual participation in both health and nutrition by all qualified consumers.
- Fact Sheet: The Affordable Care Act Opportunity for CalFresh (Updated March 2014)
- CDSS: Horizontal Integration Overview (February 2014)
- 55 Groups Sign Letter to Governor Urging More Health Coverage & CalFresh Connections (December 2013)
- The Consumer's Checklist for California Counties on Health and CalFresh (Updated August 2013)
- “Senator DeLeón’s Letter to Supporters on Integration of Health and Human Services” (Fall 2013)
- “Apply & Connect: Opportunities and Challenges for Horizontal Integration” by Jim Jones (July 2012)
- Alliance & 15 Groups’ Letter on Health Coverage and Human Services Integration (May 2012)
- Alliance Letter on State Health Care & CalFresh (October 2011)
- Alliance & 15 State Groups’ Letter on Human Services Integration & RFP Development (December 2011)
3) Modernize Operations to Improve Service and Participation California could combine clear participation goals, business process changes, technology, data analysis, and culture change to deliver "same day service" to the majority of CalFresh consumers.
- USDA, “Timeliness in the SNAP Application Process” (Summer 2013)
- Alliance Consumer Checklist for CalFresh (June 2012)
- Alliance Letter on CalFresh Modernization (October 2011)
California Can Lead the States in Connecting Families in Need with Healthy Food
With the Governor’s leadership and State and county partnership, we believe that in five years California can move from a 50% participation rate (among the last in the nation) to a 75% participation rate (top ten in the nation). Quick, transformative change is possible with the right kind of leadership. Other states – such as Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Hawaii, Arizona, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan -- have proven that a commitment to changing the status quo can yield significant benefits for hungry families, bring in more federal dollars, save money in administrative costs, and avoid federal sanctions. The same can be true for California.
For more information on the “Alliance to Transform CalFresh,” please contact Sue Sigler, Executive Director of CAFB, at 510.272.4435, x. 903 or Sue@cafoodbanks.org.
 California Food Policy Advocates “Lost Dollars, Empty Plates: The Impact of CalFresh Participation on State and Local Economies” report for 2010 available at http://cfpa.net/LDEP_2010/LDEP_2010_final.pdf
 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) State Activity Report for 2008 available online at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/qc/pdfs/2008_state_activity.pdf