Beginning June 1, it will be easier for Californians who rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to purchase the food they need. They will be eligible for our state's version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that's called CalFresh.
While California is often ahead of the curve compared to other states, in this case, we've been far behind. State law currently prohibits people who receive SSI benefits from getting federal food assistance. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last year before he left office to change that.
In fact, we're the last state to allow SSI beneficiaries to get federal food assistance. The head of CalFresh acknowledges, "It's long overdue." She says, "We hear a lot about people with disabilities barely managing to hang onto their apartments. This will free up cash that is critical for them to keep their housing."
This new benefit will also help senior citizens and disabled people who receive SSI benefits afford to shop in local grocery stores rather than food pantries that may be many miles from their homes and difficult to get to for those who can't drive or don't own a car. The food in these pantries is mostly in cans and boxes. By next year, they'll also be able to shop for their groceries online using their CalFresh benefits.
The California Department of Social Services, which administers the CalFresh program, is sending out postcards to the state's approximately 1 million SSI recipients to notify them of their new benefit. Social services agencies and nonprofit organizations in every county are helping people sign up for CalFresh. The amount they receive each month (which will be placed on a debit card) will vary. However, the average will be a little over $100.
That can make a big difference in the lives of Californians who have had to choose paying the rent over food -- let alone nutritious food. Seniors are among those hardest hit. According to the nonprofit group Feeding America, 8.4% of people in California who are 60 and older lack adequate access to food. That's .7% above the national average.
If a loved one hasn't applied for SSI benefits because they didn't want to give up their access to CalFresh or if they haven't been able to qualify for SSI benefits, an experienced attorney may be able to help them secure the benefits they need and deserve.