Getting Food Assistance to Eligible Families: A Chance for Another Step Forward

CalFresh is an integral part of our state’s safety net for low-income families. The program provides food assistance – funded entirely by the federal government – to nearly 4 million Californians, more than three-fifths of whom are children. Yet despite the importance of this program, California ranks last among states in enrolling eligible individuals. In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, only 53 percent of eligible Californians participated in CalFresh.

In recent years, the Legislature has taken a number of steps to help boost participation, but more can be done. A bill currently moving through the Assembly, AB 1560 (Fuentes), would take another big step forward by linking CalFresh and Medi-Cal, which provides health care services to more than 7 million low-income Californians. Many Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal – more than 1 million, according to some estimates – are eligible for CalFresh, but do not participate. AB 1560 would allow counties to use information that families already provided when they applied for Medi-Cal to help enroll those families in CalFresh. By connecting CalFresh and Medi-Cal and simplifying the enrollment process, AB 1560, which will be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, could help boost the number of families receiving food assistance at a time when many California families continue to struggle in the wake of the Great Recession.

— Scott Graves and Sam Sellers