Hunger affects everyone and nutrition is an essential part of a full and healthy life. Regardless of income, immigration status, race or ethnicity, every child, adult and family should be able to access food that they need. According to data from the UCLA California Health Interview Survey, 45% percent of undocumented Californians and 64% of undocumented children are currently affected by food insecurity. Hunger has serious consequences for health, financial security, and children’s long-term success. In California, one of the wealthiest economies in the world, these food inequities must be addressed.
The California Immigrant Policy Center was founded 25 years ago in response to cruel policies which aimed to exclude immigrants from the social safety net, including nutrition programs. In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which restricted SNAP (“food stamps”) eligibility for immigrants across the country. In response to this “welfare reform,” CIPC partnered with advocates across the state to lead campaigns that resulted in the creation of the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which provides state-funded food stamp benefits to qualified immigrants who are ineligible for federal food stamps.
Today, CFAP serves about 35,000 “qualified immigrants” who lost federal SNAP eligibility due to federal welfare reform legislation in 1996. Most of these people are lawful permanent residents (green card holders) of less than 5 years. Aside from being state-funded rather than federally-funded, CFAP and CalFresh benefits are the same. Like CalFresh, CFAP is issued through the same Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card and can be used to buy groceries at participating businesses. Current CFAP participants may also be lawful temporary residents, victims of trafficking, U visa/interim relief applicants, or U visa holders.
However, the legacy of discriminatory policies remains in our safety net, and many low-income Californians lack access to CalFresh and CFAP, the country’s largest and most effective anti-hunger programs. Federal laws exclude undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and certain visa holders from CalFresh, but California has a long history of recognizing that immigrants are an essential part of our state and has the power to make CFAP more inclusive.
Participating in programs like CalFresh and CFAP has lifted nearly 1 million Californians out of poverty and provided food access to 4.5million Californians in fall 2021 alone. Yet, many low-income Californians remain excluded from accessing CalFresh and CFAP due to arbitrary immigration status requirements. Research shows that access to CalFresh improves overall health outcomes of low-income participants and lowers health care costs over the long-term. For example, increased access to CalFresh results in $2,100 in annual health care savings per senior enrolled.
Secured $35.2 million in the 2022-23 Budget Act to provide state-funded food assistance to undocumented adults age 55 and older through our Food4All campaign.
Food is fundamental to the dignity of all human beings. However, the reality is that many Californians lack the resources to afford the healthy food they need. Despite the contributions immigrants make in California, many have experienced unprecedented food insecurity during the pandemic and due to recent rises in food costs. We must ensure that immigrants are not left behind as our communities recover from the pandemic. With inclusive policies like SB 245 (Hurtado) and AB 311 (Santiago), we can ensure food access for all Californians, including immigrants, and create a healthier California.
In 2021, CIPC and NourishCA launched the Food4All campaign. Thanks to the advocacy of the Food4All coalition, the 2022-23 State Budget included funding to end the exclusion of income-eligible immigrants ages 55 and older from accessing CFAP benefits. However, the Governor’s proposed 2023-2024 budget proposes to delay the implementation date of this expansion to January 1, 2027, which will prevent this historic investment from reaching an estimated 75,000 Californians and their families who are currently in need of essential food benefits.
The Food4All campaign is continuing to advocate for Food4All. CIPC is a proud co-sponsor of SB 245 and AB 311, identical legislation that will increase access to food by removing the arbitrary exclusion of income-eligible Californians from CFAP due to their immigration status, regardless of age. Food4All will reduce hunger, improve health, and help lift Californians out of poverty. When we all have the food we need, California thrives. Now is the time for California to champion bold legislation and put forth an equitable vision for our nation. No Exceptions, No Exclusions, No Delays!
Join CIPC and the Food4All Coalition to urge your legislators to pass #Food4All this year, to ensure all Californians have access to food.
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We all believe people deserve access to food. People should not go hungry for any reason. It’s fundamental to the dignity of human beings. Our goal is to ensure that everyone, no matter their income or status, has access to food.