Senator Wiener’s Bipartisan Bill to Incentivize Purchase of Fresh Produce by Low Income Californians Passed as Part of State Budget

SB 900 - the California Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot Project - makes California-grown fruits and vegetables more affordable for low-income Californians under the CalFresh program while also supporting California farmers
July 3, 2018

Sacramento – Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) bill to make California-grown fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for CalFresh recipients was signed into law last week by Governor Brown as part of this year’s budget. Senate Bill 900 established the CalFresh Fruit and Vegetables EBT Pilot Project which will help 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. 

SB 900 was adopted as part of the Governor’s 2018/2019 Budget, which was signed on Wednesday, June 27. This means it will go into effect immediately. The CalFresh Fruit and Vegetable EBT Project is both now law and funded as part of the budget.  Joining Senator Wiener in passing this bill were principal co-author Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), and co-authors 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 seamlessly receive supplemental benefits when they purchase California-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. SB 900 requires the Department to provide a minimum of three grants to nonprofit and community organizations to implement and test this supplemental benefits pilot program at participating grocery stores and farmers markets. These programs will allow CalFresh recipients to earn an extra dollar on their EBT card for every dollar they spend on California-grown produce. 

“SB 900 will improve the health of Californians by increasing the ability of low-income people to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, while also supporting our local farmers,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “The passage of this bill shows that when Democrats and Republicans work together we can pass solutions that help alleviate poverty in California. I want to thank Governor Brown for supporting this bipartisan solution.” 

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.

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. ​