State Policymakers Can Provide Food Support to Undocumented and Mixed-Status California Families Blocked by Federal Policies

All California children, parents, workers, and community members should have the support they need to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and other necessities. Yet Californians who are undocumented immigrants, or who have undocumented family members, are blocked from full access to the supports that other Californians can turn to when struggling to meet basic needs. State and federal policies uphold exclusionary practices against undocumented Californians despite them being deeply embedded in our communities and economy. This exclusion, rooted in racism and xenophobia, is one reason why undocumented Californians and their family members are more likely to live in poverty. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, California children in families that include undocumented immigrants were an estimated three to four times more likely to be growing up in families struggling to meet their basic needs than children in non-immigrant families.

One basic support that fails to include undocumented Californians is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California. CalFresh is a key resource to help families put food on the table. Californians who are undocumented are completely blocked from access to CalFresh, and mixed-status families are only eligible for reduced benefits due to federal rules.

State policymakers can correct this inequity by including undocumented children and adults in state-funded basic nutrition assistance through the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP). CFAP provides benefits identical to CalFresh for some non-undocumented immigrant Californians who are excluded from CalFresh by federal rules. The choice by state policymakers to extend CFAP benefits to undocumented Californians would ensure that policies with xenophobic and racist roots do not block Californians from the support they need to avoid hunger.

Policymakers can make other choices, as well, to reduce policy-driven inequities in basic economic security based on immigration status, including extending access to comprehensive  health coverage through Medi-Cal regardless of immigration status, and providing much larger Golden State Stimulus payments to mixed-status and undocumented families who were blocked from federal COVID-19 stimulus and unemployment insurance benefits. These choices would provide support for undocumented Californians, who are valued community members, and help ensure all Californians are able to meet their basic needs.