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The 2022-2023 Budget for Food Stamp Benefits: California Food Assistance Program!

As essential goods and services continue to be affected by inflation, low-income Californians have to deal with the fact that their safety net assistance coverage for basic needs is getting smaller. The value of recent increases in food assistance benefits has dropped by a lot, but in October, much-needed annual adjustments for inflation will take place.

During the pandemic, the federal government used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or CalFresh in California, to give more food to people who needed it. But in recent months, inflation has eaten away at these big increases. Between July 2021 and July 2022, prices for food at home went up 13.1%, while prices overall went up 8.5%. Overall, inflation has made SNAP increases 76% less valuable since 2019.

All SNAP participants started getting the maximum benefit for their family size through monthly emergency allotments starting in April 2020. Before the pandemic, half of all CalFresh households in California had incomes low enough to get the most benefits.

This meant that the first payments, which averaged about $70 per month, went to people who were already doing pretty well. In April 2021, when the policy was changed to make sure that all families got at least $95 for emergencies, benefit increases were given to lower-income households as well. As long as both the federal government and the state government have declared an emergency, California can get emergency allotments.

Rising Food Prices Have Eroded Calfresh Increases

In January 2021, the Biden administration raised SNAP benefits by 15% and used money from the American Rescue Plan Act to keep the increase in place until September 2021. Benefit amounts were supposed to go up by about 27% in October 2021.

This was part of plans made before the pandemic to update the way typical food budgets are used to figure out SNAP benefit amounts. The increase in October 2021 was big enough to reduce child poverty in California in a way that could be measured. But because the January 2021 expansion had just ended, the average CalFresh case only got a small boost of 8.7%, or $34, that month.

Between July 2019 and July 2022, the maximum amount of CalFresh a family could get grew by 30.3%, to $153 for a family of three (this does not include the $95 monthly emergency allotment). But inflation also went up a lot during these years, which made things harder for low-income Californians and made SNAP increases less valuable.

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In fact, when inflation is taken into account, the increase in benefits in October 2021 is almost like it never happened. Both the maximum and average CalFresh benefits in March 2022 were the same as they were in September 2021.

And between July 2019 and July 2022, the real value of the most CalFresh benefits only went up 7.4%. The larger rise in average benefits (42% in May 2022 compared to July 2019) is mostly due to temporary policies put in place during the pandemic.

People who use CalFresh should feel better in the coming months. SNAP benefits are changed every year to keep up with inflation, so the amounts will go up in October to reflect the rise in prices from June 2021 to June 2022. At the same time, when public health emergencies are no longer declared, many people will lose at least $95 a month in CalFresh.

The state has worked to reach more Californians who need help with food by making it easier for eligible people to sign up. The state budget for 2022–2023 includes money for planning an expansion of state-funded food assistance to undocumented adults aged 55 and older. The full expansion is expected to happen in 2025–2026. Many low-income families might be able to pay for their food costs if the government also took steps to fight inflation.

California Food Assistance Program (2022-2023 Budget)

Summary. In this post, we look at the Governor’s plan to give food assistance to immigrants 55 and older who don’t get it now. First, we talk about what you need to know about California’s food assistance programs. Then, we talk about the Governor’s proposed expansion. Finally, we give an analysis of the Governor’s proposal and talk about things that the legislature needs to think about.


4.5 million Californians get help with food from CalFresh, which is paid for by the federal government. CalFresh is California’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income households get food once a month if they qualify.

Most households must make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible. Most grocery stores and convenience stores accept CalFresh benefits, which can be used to buy most groceries and some ready-made foods. The amount of money a household gets each month depends on its size, income, and tax-deductible living expenses.

In general, larger households get more money than smaller ones, and higher-income households get less money than lower-income ones. In 2020–2021, about 4.5 million Californians got a total of $9.8 billion in CalFresh benefits, all of which came from the federal government.

This came out to about $184 per person per month, on average. As a result of COVID-19, the federal and state governments took steps to increase both CalFresh participation and benefits. This means that average benefits are a little higher than they would be otherwise. The federal government changes CalFresh benefits every year to keep up with how much food costs.

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The state, counties, and federal government all pay for the administration of CalFresh. The Department of Social Services (DSS) is in charge of CalFresh at the state level, and county human services departments are in charge of the program at the county level.

Even though the federal government pays the benefits of CalFresh, the costs of running the program are split between the state, county, and federal governments. In 2020–21, it cost $2.1 billion to run CalFresh. This included $1 billion from the federal government, $740 million from the General Fund, and $290 million from the counties.

CalFresh is run by two main computerized systems. First, two county automation systems are called the Statewide Automated Welfare System to keep track of who is eligible for CalFresh and who signs up for it (SAWS). SAWS is changing to a single system for the whole state by the end of 2023. (the single system is known as CalSAWS).

Second, the federal government runs a system called Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), which puts monthly payments from CalFresh and other human services programs onto cards that can be used at grocery and convenience store checkout counters.

The California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) helps 35,000 legal permanent residents get food from the state. In 1996, Congress passed a welfare reform bill that, among other things, made it harder for some noncitizens to get federal food aid. Most importantly, legal permanent residents could not get food assistance from the federal government until they had lived in the country for five years.

The federal government gave states the option to help people affected by the 1996 policy change with food from state funds (such as legal permanent residents who arrived less than five years ago). In response, California set up CFAP, which gives benefits through the same EBT and SAWS systems as CalFresh.

Since CFAP works through the EBT system, the federal government is directly responsible for putting money into the accounts of participating households. The state pays the federal government back for these costs. Also, the federal government bills California for all the costs of running the program.

In 2020–2021, CFAP benefits cost the General Fund $69 million ($165 per person per month on average) and cost the General Fund $2.5 million to run. (In the same way that CalFresh benefits were increased in response to COVID-19, so too were CFAP benefits temporarily increased.)

Food assistance and programs like it have very different rates of participation. DSS thinks that about 70% of CalFresh-eligible people actually signed up for the program in 2019, which is up from about 50% in 2010. There is no direct estimate of CFAP participation rates, which is hard to figure out because the program is small.

However, some research shows that immigrants are less likely to use food assistance programs than naturalized citizens. Outside of food assistance programs, we think that about 60% of people take part in the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program, while over 90% of people take part in Medi-Cal. Even undocumented immigrants are likely to take part in both full-scope and limited-scope Medi-Cal.

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Recent changes to the budget aim to give more food aid to undocumented immigrants. In the spending plan for 2021–2022, $5 million was set aside for 2021–2022. This money will be used to start making the automation changes needed to make CFAP available to immigrants who aren’t eligible right now.

Legislation related to the budget only said that the expansion would be based on age, but it didn’t say which age groups would get the benefits first. These details were expected to be worked out during this year’s budget talks.

Governor’s 2022‑23 Proposal

Adds undocumented immigrants over age 55 to the CFAP. In the Governor’s budget, there is a plan to make CFAP available to all 55-year-old or older income-eligible people, regardless of their immigration status, and to give $40 million in 2022–23 to keep making automation changes.

This amount is supposed to go up to $113.4 million by 2025–2026, after a few years of giving out benefits and getting more people to use them. The government says that by 2025–2026, about 75,000 people a year will be able to take advantage of this expansion, which is an estimated 60 percent takeup rate.

Issues for Legislative Consideration

The administration has one plan, but the legislature could look at other options. As we’ve already said, the 2021–2022 budget included laws that said CFAP had to be made available to undocumented people based on their age. This law is in line with the administration’s plan to make CFAP available to undocumented people over the age of 55. Still, the Legislature might want to expand CFAP differently, like starting with a different or larger age group.

We think that one reason the administration is focusing on older immigrants is that younger people can get help with food through other programs, like free and low-cost school meals. When deciding where to start, the Legislature may want to ask the administration:

(1) if there was an analysis of how much food assistance was available to younger and older immigrants;

(2) why 55 and over was chosen instead of 50 and over, as was done for Medi-Cal;

(3) if there were any lessons learned from first expanding Medi-Cal to younger undocumented immigrants that could help decide if that approach should also be used for CFAP.

The proposed new program has a very low chance of being used. As we’ve already said, participation rates in existing health and human services programs vary a lot. Because of this, it’s hard to predict what the participation rate for a new program should be.

In addition to this basic uncertainty, many studies show that reaching out to people without papers is especially hard. People in this situation are often hesitant to sign up for benefits programs because they are afraid that their information will be shared with federal law enforcement or that their participation will hurt their chances of becoming a citizen in the future. Even though these things would make people less likely to take part in an expanded program, we don’t know how much less they would be.

Costs for full implementation depend on the number of people who are targeted and how many of them sign up. If the Legislature decided to go with a younger age range than what was proposed by the administration, more people would likely qualify for expanded food assistance, and the cost of giving these benefits would go up.

Costs of benefits also depend very much on how many people sign up for the program in the end. A program with a lower takeup rate could cost hundreds of millions of dollars less than a program with a higher takeup rate that is otherwise the same. Takeup rates can be affected by how policies are made.

Programs that are easier to sign up for and stay in tend to have higher take-up rates. Also, participation rates tend to change over time, often going from being low to being high as a program gets older and more people to learn about it. When the Legislature decides how to reach its goal of giving more food aid, these things will be important.

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