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Food Justice News March 3, 2022
California has the chance this year to build upon success of legislation passed in the last two years to make permanent improvements to anti-hunger programs that will greatly increase people’s ability to get sufficient food, improve their diets and their health. If we lose the momentum, we’ll be set back. These investments have to happen to make life in the state better for everyone.
Mark your calendars for the week of May 9 through May 13 to raise your voice to our legislators and call for an end to hunger in the state that feeds the nation! If you’re interested in advocating together with us to end hunger , drop us a note at [email protected] .
Below we outline three of the major proposals for this year’s state legislative agenda. There are a few more that we will link to soon:
Highlight of this year’s anti-hunger policies will be Food 4 All, a proposal to expand CalFresh beyond the current limits to reach seniors 55 and older, regardless of their immigration status. California will be able to do this using the California Food Assistance Program, an adjunct to CalFresh that was created to reach previously eligible immigrants who were pushed out of food assistance due to federal rule changes in the 1990s. Currently only a small number access this program, but Food4All will enable at least a portion of the non-eligible immigrant community to get help buying food.
The Governor has indicated his support for this policy, in the limited form described above. Ultimately we want to see CalFresh reach all hungry state residents. The pandemic, especially in its earliest stages when there were no vaccines (and even masks were hard to come by, if you recall), exposed the depth of inequity when it came to our societal insistence that certain people (“essential workers” in grocery, retail, manufacturing and many services) keep on working, even if they were not eligible for assistance to feed their families.
We are calling on the state to “maintain commitment made in the 2021-22 State Budget to permanently fund the expansion of the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to provide state-funded nutrition benefits to all Californians ineligible for CalFresh due only to their immigration status.”
You can find more information about the Food4All campaign here:
Helping Senior & Disabled Californians Reach the Poverty Level
This year Hunger Action Los Angeles is joining dozens of other organizations and activists in calling for the state to enact the vision outlined in the Master Plan for Aging to Prevent Poverty and Hunger for SSI recipients. SSI recipients, who are over 65 or blind or disabled, currently live on a monthly payment that’s not even at the poverty level----$1,040 per month for most individuals (couples and certain other individuals get slightly higher amounts.) There are three components to the request:
1) Accelerate part two of SSP grant cut reversal to 2023 and lift all grants above Federal Poverty Level---After a struggle of many years, the state has begun reversing the cuts that were made to SSI grants during the recession. Phase one was completed with the $36 grant increase that took effect this past month. Phase two is not scheduled to take effect until 2024 even though the funding is there to implement it now. We are asking the state to accelerate that increase to January 2023 so that SSI recipients don’t suffer needlessly for another year of inadequate survival funds:
2) Include SSI, SSDI and Social Security recipients in future Golden State Grants (the lump sum stimulus payments due to the pandemic);
3) Fulfill the “hold harmless” goal of the Supplemental and Transitional Nutrition Benefits by ensuring parity with the updated Thrifty Food Plan for CalFresh. This is a little complicated to explain but basically it makes sure that households with a mixture of SSI recipients and non-SSI recipients receive similar CalFresh amounts to those not in that situation.
California has 1.3 million residents surviving on SSI/SSP payments. These are barely enough to cover housing costs.
Expanding Healthy Food Incentives: State and County Policies
Healthy food incentives programs such as Market Match flourished locally in Los Angeles County during the pandemic, with some participating farmers markets reporting as high as a 50% increase in supplemental benefits distributed for CalFresh users to purchase California-grown fruits and vegetables. This increase came largely due to word of mouth dissemination of information about the program. For over 3 years, California has also approved a pilot program that would extend supplemental benefits for fruits and vegetables to all CalFresh users in the state, and would provide rebates on produce purchases not only at farmers markets but at small grocery stores and supermarkets as well. However, the implementation of this pilot was slowed due to the pandemic.
At last, by the fall of 2022 the $9 million pilot will be implemented at a variety of locations including a few farmers markets here in Los Angeles County. Meanwhile, HALA is supporting a proposal to expand the pilot to many more sites. Two organizations, SPUR and Nourish CA, are sponsoring legislation AB 2153 that would increase the number of participating stores in the pilot and ensure that they’re located all over the state.
HALA also successfully advocated for Los Angeles County to include funding for fruit and vegetable supplemental benefits in this year’s County budget and will be pushing for inclusion as an ongoing budget line by the County. These benefits can also be designed to reach populations that currently aren’t eligible for CalFresh, and will hopefully be the start of longterm meaningful investment by LA County in the health of its poorest residents, by giving them access to some of California’s most precious resources----the fruits and vegetables grown on its locally owned farms.
The Story of the ABAWD
Other anti-hunger items on the state of California legislative agenda will utilize our unprecedented budget surplus to plug in the gaps in our main food assistance programs. AB 1965, CARET California Antihunger Response and Employment Training Act of 2022. would end the impact of the so-called “ABAWD” rules in California.
What’s an ABAWD ? Sounds like some kind of alien, right? Take a look at yourself. Are you between age 18 and 50, and have no dependent children? You, my friend, are an ABAWD thanks to this rule pioneered by John Kasich, the longtime Ohio congressional representative and one-time presidential candidate, back in 1996. According to the ABAWD philosophy, no one between 18 and 50 with no children should ever possibly have any trouble whatsoever getting a job and therefore should not be eligible for more than three months of SNAP (food stamps) within a three year period, unless they are working 20 hours or more per week or are in a state-sponsored “workfare” program.
The irony and hypocrisy of this rule is that after someone is kicked off beyond the three months, they don’t even have access to the “workfare” that is supposed to be provided for the very purpose of helping people maintain assistance while they look for work. While many California counties like Los Angeles and some other states do (somewhat) the right thing and provide these “workfare” programs, many states don’t bother with that at all and so have left thousands of hungry Americans in the lurch.
There are occasional waivers for this rule, and the fact that during the recession the so-called “red” states opted for these waivers and did not enforce this rule is an indication that regardless of political ideology no one seriously believes that people are able to conjure up non-existent jobs. As the recession faded, the Trump administration sought to reduce the possibility of waivers to this ABAWD rule and included them in the 2018 Farm Bill that includes SNAP policy---then the pandemic hit. Congress suspended the ABAWD rule nationwide as long as there is a declared public health emergency.
As the economy recovers and the number of COVID cases begins to decline, we will once again see the rule being put back into effect around the country, when the public emergency is declared to be over. But Assemblymember Buffy Wicks has taken initiative to make sure that Californians will have access to food while they are unemployed.
As Assemblymember Buffy Wick’s bill text for AB 1965 states:
Hunger never makes any person better able to prepare for work, secure a job, or succeed at their place of employment. It only makes them, and our economy, weaker and less able to persevere during hard times.