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Social Safety Net Programs Drive Down Poverty in California

November 4, 2022

Last week, the Public Policy Institute of California released a report showing California’s Poverty Measure (CPM) fell dramatically from 16.4% in 2019 to a projected 11.7% in autumn 2021, largely due to federal and state social safety net programs. Specifically, without them, the 2021 CPM would have been 10.3% higher last year. Critical to those successes are temporary enhancements to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and CalFresh food assistance, which helped to lift millions of Californians out of poverty. The evidence is clear that poverty is a policy choice we have the tools to solve, and we urge Congress to make these proven tools permanent in our safety net.

Expanded Child Tax Credit Expiration: Poverty Already on the Rise

Nationally, the Child Tax Credit cut child poverty in half, and food insecurity by 26%, simply astonishing impacts of effective public policy. Federal policymakers’ failure to extend the CTC expansion means that nearly 1.7 million children in California have likely fallen back into poverty or deeper into poverty. We urge Congress to permanently extend the enhanced Child Tax Credit as part of the end of year spending package or any other vehicle to restore this life-changing policy.

CalFresh: Hunger Cliff Looms

Currently, CalFresh households are receiving the maximum benefit due to Emergency Allotments, which are tied to the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) status, which have greatly improved CalFresh benefit adequacy. In 2021, CalFresh kept 1 million Californians out of poverty – double the number in 2019. This increase is largely driven by the Emergency Allotments that will sunset following the end of the federal PHE, at which time CalFresh participants will lose on average $82 per person per month in their food benefits.

Thanks to the California Department of Social Services maximizing federally funded Emergency Allotments, California was able to narrow affordability gaps that plagued households with low incomes long before the pandemic. This month alone (November 2022), $506 million in Emergency Allotments were issued to CalFresh recipients, and since April 2020, the total is more than $8 billion

CalFresh, nationally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger and enhances the purchasing power of millions of eligible households with a low income. This proven program also stimulates the economy, particularly during economic downturns. Each $1 in SNAP benefits generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity

Hunger remains alarmingly high even as the COVID-19 pandemic surges subside in California, and the larger economic and social impact will no doubt be felt for years to come. The latest data shows that 8 million Californians – or 20% of our population – are experiencing food insecurity, with Black and Latinx people facing the greatest burden. This reality is compounded today by record-setting food price inflation.

California is facing a looming “hunger cliff” when Emergency Allotments sunset after the federal PHE ends that will be extremely detrimental, but one that is preventable. We know from the Great Recession that prematurely ending food aid consigned the state to a decade of elevated hunger, and now is the time to learn that lesson.

California must act boldly to mitigate the harm of expiring Emergency Allotments and can help mitigate the hunger cliff by providing food resources for a more just and equitable COVID-19 recovery for Californians who rely on CalFresh to eat, by: 

  1. continuing to maximize the federally funded Emergency Allotments and; 
  2. providing a ramp-down approach, so CalFresh households have time to plan and save for the major reduction in benefits instead of the harsh 1-month transition under federal rules.

Finally, we call on Congress to take action to strengthen SNAP through proactive legislation:

  • H.R. 1753 Lee – Improving Access to Nutrition Act – Repeals SNAP’s three-month time limit for unemployed and underemployed adults.
  • H.R. 1919 Gomez, Harder, Panetta – Enhance Access To SNAP Act (EATS Act) – Eliminates the inequitable SNAP restrictions for college students.
  • H.R. 4077 Adams – Closing the Meal Gap Act – Increases SNAP benefit adequacy by using the Low Cost Meal Plan, removing the cap on the SNAP shelter deduction, and raising the monthly minimum benefit allotment. Ends inequitable SNAP access for Puerto Rico & U.S. Territories.
  • H.R. 5227 Jayapal – Lift the Bar Act – Expands program access to immigrants by eliminating the five-year bar.

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