In summary

Senate Bill 464 will help provide food security to low-income families and help lift them out of poverty, regardless of immigration status.

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By Melissa Hurtado, Special to CalMatters

Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a Democrat from Sanger, represents the 14th Senate District,

Years ago, a high school friend of mine – a single mom living in fear due to her legal status – came to my door. “I don’t have formula to feed my baby,” she said.

That moment is still very vivid and painful in my memory. Here was my friend – living as I do in a state that feeds the world – at my door, desperate and in fear for her and her infant child.

Unfortunately, her story is not unique. It is a painful story that many immigrant and migrant communities have and continue to experience.

It’s estimated that 1 in 10 Californians experienced food insecurity prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that 2 million undocumented immigrants were not eligible for most food assistance programs. After this pandemic, many families will remain in need of food assistance. 

In a 2016 analysis for Bread for the World Institute, one in four undocumented households are food insecure, meaning they have limited or uncertain access to adequate food; for migrant and seasonal undocumented workers, the proportion is more than half.

Here in California, we’ve taken important steps to recognize that immigrants, including our undocumented neighbors, are a vital part of our communities and our economy. We’ve approved in-state tuition for undocumented students at state colleges and universities. We have also allowed low-income, undocumented children to be eligible for free or low-cost health insurance under the state’s Medicaid program.

California can do better. That’s why I have introduced Senate Bill 464, the Food for All or “Comida Para Todos” Act, which will help provide food security to low-income families and help lift them out of poverty, regardless of their immigration status.

Food for All means much more than someone’s food security status – and food security means much more than someone’s status.

Food For All means good health. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the embedded inequities that endanger the health and well-being of immigrants, people of color and other populations. Individuals who are food insecure are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. 

Not having enough healthy food can have serious implications for a child’s physical and mental health, academic achievement and future economic prosperity. This crisis has put a fresh spotlight on the everyday contributions that essential workers, many of them immigrants, make to our economy and society.

Food helps unify us. It unites families and communities by allowing for traditions to be shared and memories to be made. Like the capirotada many Mexican moms make every January for their children or the shared meals during the Holy month of Ramadan.  

Having enough food means peace. The greatest fear for immigrant families is the fear of starvation. Many families work in the shadows and suffer in silence. This isn’t about immigration status, or us versus them – it’s about us as a human species, learning to protect each other in a more challenging environment.

Food for All means opportunities. Like the story of those who came to California looking for a better life for themselves and for their families, it means opportunity. My parents came to this nation seeking the American dream and they found it in providing food for others. Their struggle and passion for their work is a reminder of why food security takes priority in the work that I do.

It’s time to continue our work and do the right thing. Food is health. Food is life. Food is a human right. Let’s make California a state where there is Food for All. Comida Para Todos.

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