According to a May 17 San Francisco Chronicle article, in which MEDA’s Financial Capability Program Manager Jackie Marcelos was quoted, only 50 percent of San Franciscans eligible for CalFresh have signed up. Unfortunate.
CalFresh, formerly known as Food Stamps, is California’s implementation of the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This vital program aims to reduce hunger for low-income individuals and families by providing assistance for purchasing food.
With San Francisco exhibiting one of the lowest sign-up rates in the nation, the City and local politicians were compelled to hold a forum/media event on this topic. Speakers included: Executive Director Trent Rhorer of the San Francisco Human Services Agency (HSA), who gave an overview of the CalFresh program and detailed the almost-doubled benefits for the local economy with every CalFresh dollar spent; Executive Director Paul Ash of SF-Marin Food Bank, who highlighted the importance of working collaboratively with other agencies, such as MEDA, to help families easily and expeditiously apply; CalFresh Branch Policy Section Chief Alexis Fernandez, who ensures HSA receives needed funding for the food program; and Cynthia Chagolla, an attorney at Bay Legal Aid who emphasized San Franciscans’ right to apply.
MEDA’s Marcelos was joined at this forum by FInancial Coach Laura Ospina. MEDA was honored to be invited — an invitation that came about because the community-based organization annually submits CalFresh applications for many underresourced clients.
Ospina (photo, second left, at event) stated the following when she spoke at the forum: “In the face of no-fault evictions, escalating rents, job insecurity and, now, the threat emanating from recent federal political discourse, it is imperative that we all do everything in our power to support San Francisco’s families to secure one of their most basic needs: food.”
Showcasing the need
MEDA’s Financial Capability team knows all too well of the need for CalFresh. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Mission Promise Neighborhood, an education initiative for which MEDA is the lead agency, 30 percent of our families live below the federal poverty guideline, defined as an annual income of $24,250 for a family of four. Additionally, the vast majority of students at the four Mission Promise Neighborhood schools are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch.
Exemplifying the need — and the positive impact CalFresh can have in helping families thrive — is Ospina’s client, Yesenia. Clients such as Yesenia get free financial coaching at MEDA, with an assessment and action plan. The latter often includes applying for public benefits.
“In Yesenia’s case, she is a single mom of two kids. They live with Yesenia’s mother and grandmother, in tight quarters. With CalFresh, Yesenia receives $496 a month to help her family. That’s significant, as she is currently seeking full-time employment after finishing culinary school,” explains Ospina of how the program is a stopgap measure to put families on the path to success.
Qualifying is often easier than clients think, even for immigrant parents without a Social Security Number.
“Our immigrant parents can apply for CalFresh as long as they have children with Social Security numbers. That’s all that’s needed on the application,” states Marcelos.
The six steps:
- Stop by MEDA for a quick conversation to learn of potential eligibility and what paperwork is needed. Alternatively, head to the CalFresh website, where a social worker can send the prospective applicant to MEDA because of proximity, appointments open or the nonprofit’s culturally relevant services for Latinos.
- At home, scan or take a picture of required paperwork and email it to MEDA. Alternatively, this process can be done at MEDA, if needed.
- MEDA files paperwork with the City of San Francisco Human Services Agency, using software created by Code for America. This new software expedites the process, which can now be done in under 30 minutes. That is half of the time versus applying on California’s website.
- Within 30 days, the client hears back if they are eligible, based on people in household and net monthly income (see chart below).
- Receive your Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. This can be picked or mailed.
- Use EBT card at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, based on the maximum CalFresh allotment.
“We invite our underresourced families to let MEDA help get them the assistance they need, including CalFresh. Plaza Adelante remains a safe, welcoming neighborhood center. Services can be provided in Spanish. We are here for you,” concludes Marcelos.