In summary

SB 882 would streamline access to CalFresh and make permanent emergency measures that allow quick and easy access from home.

By Nancy McPherson, Special to CalMatters

Nancy McPherson is the California State Director for AARP, caaarp@aarp.org. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters. 

Lee este artículo en español.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on the shortcomings of many of the programs that help protect older adults in California, including our state’s food assistance program, CalFresh.

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As California builds momentum toward recovery, the time is now to ensure that, going forward, programs like CalFresh are effectively providing for our state’s most vulnerable residents. Senate Bill 882, introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, would do just that. The legislation would streamline access to CalFresh and make permanent certain emergency measures designed to allow Californians to quickly and easily access food assistance from home. 

CalFresh is a particularly critical resource for many older Californians, yet the program is under-utilized year after year, particularly by those who are most vulnerable to food insecurity. 

According to the most recent pre-pandemic data, only 19% of eligible older Californians are enrolled in CalFresh, which is the lowest rate of any state in the nation. This under-enrollment is largely a result of unnecessarily burdensome application and reporting processes. California can and must do better.

SB 882 would help to address under-enrollment by simplifying the CalFresh application process, allowing those in need to complete the application or to recertify their enrollment by phone. SB 882 also removes the burdensome, ongoing annual reporting requirements for many households with older adults and people with disabilities. 

Those unnecessary reporting requirements cause many households to lose access to CalFresh assistance, even while they remain eligible. Simply removing these barriers would significantly increase participation rates in CalFresh and thereby improve the health and quality of life of millions of older Californians.

Increasing access to nutritious food for those in need is critical to maintaining a healthy population and protecting older adults and their families against pandemics like the one we are currently facing. SB 882 is a giant step toward ensuring the health of our older adult population as we head toward recovery, and it will also help to ensure we are prepared for future emergencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought massive uncertainty for millions of older Californians, many of whom already face the daily crisis of food insecurity. Many lives have been saved thanks to our state’s leaders and county administrators who took quick action to remove barriers to CalFresh enrollment. State leaders also moved quickly to allow CalFresh to be used to purchase groceries online for delivery, a crucial immediate step that helped older adults and other vulnerable Californians safely get the food they need. 

Now it’s time to invest in California’s health by making positive changes permanent. Some emergency measures expire on June 30, and we must ensure that, moving forward, no Californian in need is ever deterred from or unable to access food assistance due to unnecessary administrative barriers.

As we begin our path toward recovery, please join us in supporting SB 882 and the protections it would ensure for older adults and other vulnerable Californians. As a society, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that tools like CalFresh are readily available for those who need them. All Californians deserve to live hunger-free, and SB 882 will help that become a reality, now and in the future.

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Nancy McPherson is the California State Director for AARP, caaarp@aarp.org. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters. 

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