Bill To Boost CalFresh Participation Set for Hearing in State Senate

It’s no secret that California ranks dead last among states in enrolling eligible individuals in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which was formerly known as food stamps. The state has been chipping away at the problem for several years now, and the most recent effort – AB 1560 (Fuentes) – is working its way through the Legislature, with a hearing scheduled for tomorrow, June 26, in the Senate Human Services Committee at 1:30 p.m.

AB 1560 could help bring more low-income individuals into SNAP – known as CalFresh in California – by simplifying the eligibility rules for certain households and creating a direct link between CalFresh and Medi-Cal, which provides basic health coverage to more than 7 million low-income Californians. Specifically, the bill would raise the gross income limit applicable to CalFresh for families who have at least one person enrolled in Medi-Cal. For these families, the “gross income test” – which looks at a family’s total income – would be increased from 130 percent of the federal poverty line (currently $2,008 per month for a family of three) to 200 percent of the poverty line ($3,090 per month for a family of three), thereby removing a key obstacle to CalFresh participation for many low-income families. These families, however, would continue to be subject to a secondary income limit, known as the “net income test.” Families’ net income – that is, gross income minus certain allowable expenses, such as child care – would have to be at or below the poverty line ($1,545 per month for a family of three) in order to qualify for CalFresh food assistance.

Low-income working families who have a connection to Medi-Cal and who spend much of their incomes on child care and housing – leaving relatively little in their budgets for food – would benefit the most from this change. These families are currently excluded from CalFresh if their total incomes exceed 130 percent of the poverty line. For example, two parents who each work full-time at a minimum-wage job earn about $2,800 per month, putting their household income above the CalFresh income limit, but leaving their income well below 200 percent of the poverty line. Under AB 1560, this family would no longer be automatically excluded from CalFresh on the first pass – so long as at least one family member is enrolled in Medi-Cal. Instead, they would move right to the second test and, if their net income falls at or below the poverty line, would be eligible to receive CalFresh food assistance.

By establishing a direct link between CalFresh and Medi-Cal, AB 1560 also could help to boost CalFresh participation among the estimated 1.2 million Medi-Cal enrollees who are currently eligible for CalFresh, but either have not applied or have “fallen off” CalFresh due to excessive reporting requirements. Linking CalFresh and Medi-Cal also would eliminate duplicative steps for county eligibility workers, who assess eligibility for both CalFresh and Medi-Cal.

Boosting the number of low-income families who receive vital food assistance. Increasing efficiencies. Sounds like a win-win.

— Scott Graves