The CalFresh Program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, helps low-income households in California increase their food-buying power to meet their household’s nutritional needs. The program, whose name has been through many iterations and can differ in the states where it was adopted, was given a name in our state that conveyed the concept of fresh, modern, and had a connection to California’s agriculture.
CalFresh benefits are issued through a monthly subsidy that is applied to a debit card which can be used to purchase food at grocery stores like Vons/Safeway, Walmart, Ralph’s, and/or Trader Joe’s. And even online retailers like Amazon. Shoppers can use CalFresh benefits at participating farmers markets and receive a matching dollar amount (up to $10) to spend on fruits and vegetables at the same market. Homeless, elderly or disabled persons may purchase prepared meals from participating restaurants with their card.
CalFresh was established in its modern form by the Food Stamp Reform Act of 1977. Its purpose was to act as a safety net against hunger for Americans with low incomes. In the latter half of the 1980s, the program was expanded due to severe domestic hunger. In 2003, CalFresh program management was improved to reach more California families. The CalFresh brands include CalFresh Healthy Living, which encourages active, healthy lifestyles, and CalFresh Food, the state’s SNAP benefits program.
About 4.5 million Californians in 2.5 million households currently receive CalFresh Food benefits. However, it’s estimated that nearly 2 million more Californians are eligible for assistance but do not receive them. In Marin, 70% of the families we serve have limited access to healthy food. 1 in 5 families (and 1 in 3 seniors) in Marin struggle to put food on the table. They often have to make a choice of paying rent or feeding their families.
Californians who receive food assistance come from all backgrounds, but many share a similar story: they were barely getting by financially when they were tipped into crisis by an unexpected expense or loss of income. The reality is that people applying for food assistance often feel the stigma that arises from deeply ingrained myths about poverty and welfare in American culture.
Over the past year, food insecurity among the low-income families and communities of color we serve within the county has intensified. At a time when so many have so much and others have so little or nothing at all, Community Action Marin continues to raise awareness about what we can do together to make healthy, good food accessible to everyone in our community.
Aside from screening individuals to determine if they are eligible for CalFresh and providing assistance with the onsite application or renewal, Community Action Marin is working hard to address and eliminate food insecurity as well. We are growing food, educating children about health and nutrition through our Garden of Eatin’ curriculum and Learning Gardens, and partnering across the county with other organization to strengthen healthy food access for all.