Senator Wiener Reintroduces Legislation to Expand Access to CalFresh Food Benefits

January 7, 2021

SACRAMENTO - Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced new legislation, Senate Bill 107, to expand access to CalFresh food benefits for seniors and for all Californians. COVID-19 has exposed the depth of food insecurity in California and the need to shore up our food security safety net.

SB 107 will make it much easier for people to apply for CalFresh, by allowing people to apply by phone (currently, people must apply in person) and by creating a simplified application process for seniors and people with disabilities.

California currently makes it incredibly for people to receive CalFresh benefits, resulting in a low percentage of eligible people actually receiving these benefits. This is unacceptable under any circumstances and particularly during a pandemic and economic collapse.

SB 107 will improve and expedite access to CalFresh by:

—Requiring counties to allow people to complete a CalFresh application or recertification process by phone

—Simplifying and shortening the CalFresh application for seniors and those with disabilities

SB 107 comes at a time of unprecedented food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy. According to the Brookings Institute, “34.5% of households with children under 18 reported that since the pandemic started ‘the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have enough money to get more,’” indicating a serious increase in food insecurity nationwide.

Currently, only 19% of eligible older adults are actually served by CalFresh. Additionally, California ranks last in the country in terms of eligible seniors who are actually signed up to access food assistance benefits.

Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-San Ramon), Assemblymember Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) are co-authors of the bill, demonstrating the bipartisan support for the legislation.

SB 107 is sponsored by Nourish California, AARP California, the San Francisco Marin Food Bank, and the California Association of Food Banks.

“California’s food insecurity crisis is worse than ever, and we have a moral responsibility to make CalFresh benefits easier to access,” said Senator Wiener. “CalFresh benefits are critical for so many, and lengthy and burdensome bureaucratic processes should not get in the way of people being able to put food on the table. Our seniors, in particular, struggle with the unnecessarily long process of CalFresh applications and recertifications. There is an easier and a better way to do this, as many other states with much simpler food benefits application systems show us. SB 107 will make the application process easier for seniors, working families, individuals with disabilities, and anyone else who needs food assistance.”

"During the Covid-19 crisis, federally authorized waivers helped simplify CalFresh enrollment for people in need,” said Jared Call, Senior Advocate with Nourish California. “But those waivers will expire at some point, and we cannot afford to go backward. Senator Wiener's bill will make two common sense improvements to simplify the CalFresh application process and help struggling Californians put food on the table."