Will COVID-19 spur California to ease food stamp applications? – Santa Cruz Sentinel

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A new bill could make it easier for seniors and people with disabilities to apply for CalFresh, California’s version of food stamps, and allow people to enroll entirely over the phone by 2024.

“California’s food insecurity crisis is worse than ever, and we have a moral responsibility to make CalFresh benefits easier to access,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat who was expected to announce this week, in a statement.

Wiener’s proposal comes against a backdrop of rising hunger as the pandemic continues to ravage California’s economy and increasingly tests its hospital system. One in eight adults in California said there hadn’t been enough to eat in their household in the last week, according to a recent Census survey. More than 3.3 million Californians said they had received free groceries or meals from places such as food banks, school programs or churches.

California has long lagged the rest of the country in getting the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to all who qualify, which means the state misses out on billions in federal funding earmarked for the hungry. Just 71% of eligible Californians were enrolled in CalFresh — tying with Kansas for the fifth-lowest rate in the nation — in 2017, the last year for which national data is available.

Food advocates and county and state officials say the reasons behind California’s low participation rates are numerous and complex: With each county administering the program separately, some counties enroll almost every eligible person while others don’t get to half; the state’s geographic and ethnic diversity means many are hard to reach; often immigrants fear that signing up could hurt their or a loved one’s chances at citizenship.

Third time’s the charm?

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