As many Santa Cruz County residents struggled to make ends meet in 2010, an estimated $47.5 million in benefits designed to increase their food purchasing power never arrived. Those are the additional funds that low-income county residents would have received if everyone eligible for the CalFresh program (formerly known as food stamps) successfully accessed the benefits.
Helping to protect the food assistance program and doing a better job enrolling eligible community members was the focus at the CalFresh Forum in Sacramento, attended by Second Harvest staff. The annual event hosted by California Food Policy Advocates brought together government administrators and program advocates from across the state.
Sadly, California ranks last among states for participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as it is known nationally. Santa Cruz County lags behind its peers in CalFresh participation too. Only 37% or about 20,000 of those eligible are actually utilizing the program to purchase household food staples and fresh produce that they may not otherwise be able to afford.
So what makes it so hard to tap into CalFresh? An array of barriers exists, including a complex and prolonged enrollment process, stigma that prevents needy people from signing up, and misinformation about eligibility rules.Representatives from the US Department of Agriculture and California Department of Social Services noted recent progress, however; such as the elimination of fingerprint imaging as part of the CalFresh application process.
Thanks to community outreach efforts in the County, participation in CalFresh has risen 88% since 2006. Santa Cruz County’s Human Services Department has partnered with Second Harvest to ensure qualified residents understand the eligibility requirements. With funding from the County, Second Harvest deploys bilingual outreach workers at places like farmers’ markets and employment development offices to help clients apply.
Increased participation would be good for all county residents, not just our hungry neighbors skipping meals and stretching family food budgets until the next paycheck arrives.
For every CalFresh dollar spent, it is estimated that $1.73 is generated in economic activity as a result. If Santa Cruz elevated itself to a top participating county in California, a whopping $71 million would flow through the economy— helping families make ends meet, boosting retailers’ sales and increasing tax revenues. Understanding the opportunity there should be a SNAP.