CalFresh Expansion to SSI Recipients: Lessons & Opportunities
September 19, 2022
The expansion of CalFresh benefits to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients in 2019 was the biggest increase in program eligibility in decades. Thanks to years of advocacy by the Californians 4 SSI coalition, and leadership from the Legislature and Governor, we finally reversed a decades-old policy that excluded low-income older adults and people with disabilities from enrolling in vital CalFresh benefits.
The change required a year of intensive multi-stakeholder planning. SSI recipients, advocates, CalFresh application assisters, counties, and state agency staff came together to thoughtfully design many aspects of implementation of this big policy change. CAFB analyzed data sets provided by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to assess the success of the policy change. As of June 2021, 49% of the 1.2 million SSI recipients had enrolled in CalFresh – or nearly 580,000 people. This exceeded initial projections made by the California Department of Social Services, and represented over $740 million in annual food benefits. Even more SSI recipients have enrolled since then.
Looking ahead, California can build on this tremendous momentum and reach even more SSI recipients. Currently, our CalFresh enrollment among SSI recipients remains far from the national average (68%, excluding California). We can see the potential impact of full CalFresh enrollment — how many more SSI recipients would benefit and how many federal dollars they would have to spend in their communities — by projecting enrollment numbers to the national average for certain populations:
Full CalFresh enrollment of SSI recipients will require dedicated efforts in outreach, policy refinement, and operational improvement. These short- and long-term recommendations are largely focused on areas that will need strong leadership from CDSS and the California legislature, in partnership with county administrators and advocates.
For additional details, please check out these resources: