Expanding aid for emergency groceries

Much like CalFresh, seen here, recipients would get a prepaid card that can only be used to purchase groceries. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Jackie Botts

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 826 would create a new disaster food assistance program that could be distributed immediately. Penned by Los Angeles Democratic Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, nonprofit organizations like food banks would distribute up to two $600 prepaid cards, which can only be used to purchase groceries. Anyone who already qualifies for the Federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, California’s Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants, or certain immigrant legal services is eligible. If signed into law, it’s up to the Legislature or governor to decide how much money to set aside for this, which will determine how many people can benefit.

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

A coalition of immigrant and food security advocates, unions, and counties including California Immigrant Policy Center, the California Association of Food Banks, and the California Labor Federation.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

The bill faced no public opposition. 

WHY IT MATTERS

The cards would work a lot like CalFresh, California’s food stamp program. But unlike CalFresh, the program is available to undocumented Californians, who have also not been eligible for the federal stimulus check, state unemployment benefits, the federal $600 unemployment boost, or low-income tax refunds. Without financial assistance and facing high rates of job loss, undocumented families have faced urgent food insecurity. 

In April, California authorized the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants, which provided $75 million in the form of $500 one-time, state-funded disaster relief assistance to about 155,000 undocumented adults — about 7% of California’s 2 million undocumented residents. The need was so great that a Los Angeles nonprofit distributing the funds received over 1 million calls on the first day, crashing phone lines.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Newsom vetoed the bill on Sept. 29.

“As we continue to address the needs of Californians during the pandemic, it is prudent to consider the most appropriate and responsible means to offer support to those in need,” the governor wrote. “Given the significant General Fund impact annually that this bill would have, I am unable to sign the measure.”