Senator Wiener Introduces Legislation to Incentivize Purchase of Fresh Produce by Low Income Californians

SB 900 - the California Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot Project - is a bipartisan effort that makes California-grown fruits and vegetables more affordable for low-income Californians under the CalFresh program while also supporting California farmers
January 17, 2018

Sacramento –  Today Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced the introduction of  his California Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot Project bill, which aims to make California-grown fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for CalFresh recipients. Senate Bill 900 helps low-income Californians purchase healthier food by allowing CalFresh recipients to earn extra CalFresh funds by purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables grown in California. The bill supports low income residents who often lack affordable access to fresh produce, while also supporting California farmers.  Joining Senator Wiener in this bipartisan effort are principal co-author Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), and co-authors Assemblymembers Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) and Mark Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga.) 

SB 900 requires the Department of Social Services to program CalFresh EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards to allow CalFresh recipients to receive supplemental benefits when they purchase California-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. It also requires the Department to provide a minimum of three grants to nonprofit and community organizations to create pilot programs to implement and test this supplemental benefits program at grocery stores and farmers markets. These programs allow CalFresh recipients to earn extra dollars on their EBT card for every dollar they spend on California-grown produce. Full text here of  SB 900 here​

“This bipartisan effort to help low-income Californians to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables from our California farmers is a win-win for our state,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “SB 900 can improve the health of CalFresh recipients, which will save lives and bring down long-term healthcare costs, while also purchasing produce at grocery stores and farmers markets grown right here in California, which supports our economy.”

“I am honored to be principal co-author of SB 900 and believe that we need to create innovative tools that lead to healthier outcomes,” said Dr. Joaquin Arambula.  “By incentivizing the purchase of more locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, we will improve a program that is good for farmers and families alike.”

“Reducing hunger and poverty should be a top priority for all of us,” said Assemblyman Chad Mayes. “This bill is a win-win because it supports California jobs and our economy by increasing sales of locally-grown fruits and vegetables, and it increases access to quality food for many Californians who live at or near the poverty line.”

“If we want to do right by all Californians, we should start with food. Food brings health to our families and economic benefits to our communities, particularly when the food is grown right here in California,” said Assemblyman Marc Steinorth. “It’s a no-brainer to be a part of a solution to feed our hungry families by equipping them with the right tools to access healthy food.”

Early attempts at fruit and vegetable supplemental benefit programs like this have been popular and effective, but they can be cumbersome, requiring recipients and retailers to utilize paper coupons or tokens, rather than simply relying on the CalFresh EBT card (the usual way of using these benefits). By testing out ways to place supplemental benefits directly on recipients’ EBT cards, the state will create technology that can easily scale, allowing many more CalFresh recipients to easily use the benefit, and increasing sales of fresh produce grown in California.

SB 900 is sponsored by San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) and California Food Policy Advocates.

“Research shows that fruit and vegetable supplemental benefit programs work. They reduce hunger and improve health for low-income families and support California farmers,” said Eli Zigas, Food and Agriculture Policy Director at SPUR. “With this bill, California will take an important step forward in making healthy food more affordable at grocery stores and farmers’ markets statewide.”

“SB 900 is an exciting opportunity to use our state’s strengths to address our needs. While California grows most of the fruits and vegetables that feed the nation, it’s a cruel irony that 40% of low-income Californians can’t afford enough food to eat,” said Tracey Patterson, Director of Legislation for California Food Policy Advocates. “CalFresh helps millions of people put food on the table, but California’s unrelenting cost of living stretches household budgets further and further, leaving less and less for food. SB 900 will improve CalFresh for a greater impact on hunger, health, and California agriculture. Effective policies like SB 900 can break the cycle of poverty, poor health, and hunger that hurts millions of Californians, and our state as a whole.” 

Federal law provides food aid for people with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California. CalFresh is administered by the California Department of Social Services (DSS) and county human services agencies, but the food benefits are paid by the federal government.  Supplemental benefits currently provided to CalFresh recipients come from a mix of public and private grants.

Studies have shown that increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables CalFresh participants purchase would save lives and costs over time. One study found that reducing the cost of fruits and vegetables would significantly reduce cardiovascular disease mortality, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. In particular, the study found that a 30% subsidy for fruits and vegetables through SNAP (the national version of CalFresh) would reduce socio-economic disparities of cardiovascular disease mortality.  Another study found that subsidies for fruit and vegetable purchases through SNAP would be cost saving from a societal perspective, primarily due to the long-term reductions in type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

Last year, Senator Wiener authored Senate Bills 278 and 282 to improve CalFresh. These bills strengthened food access and employment and training programs for low-income residents, while also protecting recipients from any gross negligence by government administration. Both were signed by Governor Brown and went into effect on January 1, 2018.

About SPUR:  SPUR promotes good planning and good government in the San Francisco Bay Area, through research education and advocacy.  The organization currently operates Double Up Food Bucks, a fruit and vegetable supplement program for CalFresh participants, in Santa Clara County.  More information at: www.spur.org/healthyfood

About CFPA: California Food Policy Advocates is a statewide public policy and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of low-income Californians by increasing their access to nutritious, affordable good. More information at: https://cfpa.net/