California Senate Passes Bills by Senator Wiener to Strengthen Food Access and Employment Programs

May 31, 2017

Sacramento – Today the California Senate passed two bills by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to strengthen food access and employment and training programs for low-income residents, while also protecting recipients from any gross negligence by government administration. SB 278 and SB 282 were passed by a unanimous vote, and will now move to the Assembly for consideration.

Senate Bill 278 addresses the issue of accidental over-issuance of Cal Fresh benefits. At times - and mostly recently in Los Angeles - counties accidentally over-issue benefits and then seek repayment. Recipients, who are poor, often cannot make those repayments and struggle as a result. SB 278 allows counties not to collect small over-issuances and also allows them to excuse mass over-issuances that resulted from government negligence and from no fault of the recipient.

Senate Bill 282 improves CalFresh by creating employment opportunities and increasing access to prepared food in participating restaurants, which is critical for homeless, elderly, and disabled people who can’t access cooking facilities or have trouble cooking for themselves.

Federal law provides food aid for people with incomes below 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. In his most recent budget proposal, President Trump has proposed eliminating 25% of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which benefits 44 million people in the United States.

Federal law provides food aid for people with incomes below the Federal Poverty Level through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 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.

“As the Trump Administration seeks to gut critical social safety net services, including nutrition access programs for our poorest residents, including seniors and children, California today moved to protect these vulnerable residents,” said Senator Wiener, who serves as chair of the Human Services Committee. “In California, we don’t gut these programs to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Rather, we strengthen them so that everyone can live healthy, secure lives. I’m proud that California is continuing to show its commitment to progressive values.”

SB 278 will provide enhanced protections for CalFresh recipients when, through no fault of their own, they receive more benefit then they are supposed to receive through overissuances, and improve the cost-effectiveness of the CalFresh program. Specifically, SB 278 will:

  • Protect recipients from being penalized for administrative errors by requiring the responsible state or county, not the CalFresh recipient, pay for a mass overissuance when it was the result of a major system error, negligence or fraud on the part of state or county. Los Angeles County recently issued collection letters for as many as 38,000 CalFresh recipients for overissuances that appear to be the result of system-wide administrative error.
  • Improve the cost-effectiveness of CalFresh by requiring DSS to set a statewide cost-effective threshold for establishing and administering an overissuance, which will save counties time and resources that are wasted on collecting from clients who have received relatively small overissuances. Currently, federal law has set a threshold of $125 for collecting overpayments, but it costs the counties more than $125 to collect these overissuances, which results in a waste of badly needed resources. 

SB 278 is co-sponsored by the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations.

SB 282, also known as the Reducing Hunger Among Vulnerable Californians Act of 2017, will increase access to prepared food for low income homeless, elderly or disabled Californians and also create employment opportunities for childless homeless adults. Specifically it will:

- Increase access to prepared foods by codifying and clarifying the rules for the CalFresh Restaurant Meal Program (RMP) which allows homeless, elderly, or disabled people to use food benefits to purchase prepared meals in participating restaurants. Federal law currently allows states and counties to participate in this program, but lack of clear state law on the issue discourages participation by counties. Currently only 8 of California’s 58 counties participate.

- Create employment opportunities by requiring DSS to seek a federal waiver that allows counties to use CalFresh Employment and Training (E&T) to support a subsidized employment program. CalFresh E&T is a federal matching fund that allows counties to support specified employment and training activities, but the state must obtain a waiver from the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture to participate.

SB 282 is co-sponsored by the County Welfare Directors Association of California, the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and the San Francisco Human Services Agency.

“There has been a lot of rhetoric nationally about food stamp recipients and work. The truth is that most people who receive food stamps and can work, do work,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “But some people need extra help reducing barriers to employment, starting with preventing chronic hunger. Senator Wiener’s SB 282 moves beyond this rhetoric by both preventing hunger while also helping people prepare for and secure employment so they are less likely to rely on public benefits and go hungry in the future.”

“SB 282 would help save taxpayers save money by preventing the government to pursue overpayments that are so low, that the amount recouped would never pay for the admninistrative costs of pursuing the overpayment,” said Kevin Aslanian, of the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations.

“While we can all be proud of the progress California has made in reducing unemployment, there are still too many people struggling with under employment and low wages that are in need of our help to prevent hunger,” said San Francisco Human Services Agency Director Trent Rhorer. “Without the protection of SB 282, 170,000 CalFresh recipients are at risk of losing critical nutrition benefits statewide. This offers a creative solution to enhance our safety net of job training opportunities for families in high-cost cities like San Francisco.”