“I’m sorry, Mrs. Perkins. You are not eligible to receive CalFresh benefits.” I’ve had to relay this disappointing message too many times to too many neighbors.
For many people living on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in our community, the monthly benefits they receive simply aren’t enough. After paying for basic needs like rent and medicine, there usually isn’t much money left over for food. Until June 1, seniors and people with disabilities on SSI, were not eligible to also receive CalFresh benefits.
Looking back nearly 20 years ago, when ACCFB was much smaller in size, my role as Helpline Coordinator was to ensure that we connected callers with their neighborhood food pantry where they could pick up emergency food right away. Part of the food referral process was to also screen callers for eligibility into other nutrition programs, like CalFresh.
I thought of the pantry referrals as a temporary fix – a band-aid when people needed it most. The food our clients receive from the pantry, while helpful, would only last a day or two. It wouldn’t stretch much further. Programs like CalFresh Food are designed to help people buy nutritious food and stretch their monthly food budgets.
The most rewarding part of my job was to let clients know that they could qualify for CalFresh and how to apply for it. On the flip side, the hardest part was telling people that because they receive SSI benefits, they would not be eligible for CalFresh. Imagine telling that news to seniors, many of whom are often faced with making choices between their food and medicine.
In 2003, we launched ACCFB’s CalFresh Outreach Program to help people every step of the way in applying for CalFresh benefits. Our program has now grown the be one of the largest and longest standing in the state.
Fast forward to May 2019 – CalFresh Awareness Month. While we celebrate the CalFresh Food Program every May, this year is particularly special. We worked in close partnership with Alameda County Social Services to attend more than 80 community events to raise awareness on the new SSI CalFresh expansion and to help people apply in their own communities.
With June officially underway, we are excited to now be able to help people who receive SSI with their CalFresh application. To finally be able to say, “Yes, Mrs. Perkins. You are likely eligible, I can help you apply.”