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CalFresh Forum Unites Central Coast Advocates

The Central Coast CalFresh Forum was attended by more than 100 outreach workers, County employees, and non-profit staff to learn how to help families receive nutrition assistance through CalFresh.

The first Central Coast CalFresh Forum, convened by food banks serving Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties, and other partners, was held on Friday, May 11, 2012 at the First United Methodist Church in Watsonville. More than 100 tri-county community outreach workers, County employees, and non-profit staff took advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to network with peers and learn more about how to help qualifying families receive nutrition assistance through the CalFresh program (formerly known as food stamps).

As more Californians struggle to make ends meet, enrollment in CalFresh has increased; however, state level data from the USDA indicates that just over half of all eligible Californians participate. With the nation’s lowest participation rate, California loses out on an estimated $4.9B in federal benefits each year, which would generate an estimated $8.7B in additional economic activity.

Santa Cruz ranks 45th out of 58 counties for CalFresh utilization. If CalFresh reached all income-eligible individuals in Santa Cruz County, those currently not participating would receive an estimated $47.5M in federal nutrition benefits each year, generating $85B in additional economic activity.

The Central Coast CalFresh Forum was an interactive day of information sharing, with presentations, activities and workshops focused on educating advocates regarding:

• How the CalFresh program can fight hunger in our communities while bringing needed revenue to our economy.

• How to promote, enroll and advocate for increased participation in CalFresh.

Workshops provided in-depth information on pre-screening applicants, CalFresh program requirements, and the application process in general.

Joel Campos, Senior Manager, Outreach and Education for Second Harvest, welcomed the group. “CalFresh is a very good program,” he said. “We hope you leave here ready to spread the word and get more people enrolled.”

Second Harvest CEO, Willy Elliott-McCrea echoed those remarks before introducing Keynote Speaker, Assemblymember Luis Alejo. He talked about how federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California, serve as the front line of defense for local charities that are already stretched to the breaking point trying to keep up with increased need.

“Our work to help folks who fall between the cracks of federal food programs is futile unless we all work together to ensure a strong program at the local, state and federal level. Along with our 200 member agencies and programs, we are serving 55,000 people in Santa Cruz County; half are children. Cuts to SNAP would be devastating to our community, and there is no way charities like ours, which serve as a safety net, would be able to make up the difference.

“Our food bank serves households who do not qualify by income for SNAP but who still struggle to feed their families, due to the exceedingly high cost of living in Santa Cruz County. We also serve many SNAP participants whose benefits are inadequate to get them through the month. Benefits average less than $1.50 per person per meal, leaving many participating families to turn to local charities to make ends meet, especially toward the end of the month.

“SNAP is targeted at our most vulnerable: 76 percent of SNAP households include a child, elderly person, or disabled person, and 85 percent have gross income at or below 100 percent of the poverty line. Deficit reduction is an important national priority, but it must not be undertaken without regard to our national values and it must not come at the expense of our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Assemblymember Alejo discussed the California state budget and what the proposed cuts will mean to Central Coast families. He outlined the difficult choices being made and the profound effect deep cuts to CalWorks and CalFresh, as well as childcare programs and in-home services for the disabled and seniors, will have on local families.

The next budget vote is set for June 15th and Alejo urged collaboration among advocates and encouraged attendees to contact legislative staff to learn how to best represent the communities they serve.

We are deeply appreciative of everyone who helped put this event together, including all the speakers and workshop leaders.

Claudine Wildman, Employment and Benefit Services Division Director, Santa Cruz County

Cindy Singh, Deputy Director, Eligibility, San Benito County

Annette Gallegos, CalFresh Outreach Coordinator, Monterey County DSES

Lee Hulquist, Programs Manager, Food Bank for Monterey County

Lainie Gray, CalFresh Specialist, Santa Cruz County

Jessica Bartholow, Legislative Advocate, Western Center on Law and Poverty

Jodie Wells, Program Coordinator, Mariposa Wellness Center

Thanks to all the volunteers and SHFB staff who helped make this event a success!

To learn more:
Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)

FRAC is the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and under-nutrition in the U.S.

California Association of Food Banks (CAFB)

Founded in 1995 to promote collaboration in response to emerging social, economic and legislative challenges impacting hungry people throughout California, CAFG provides support to its membership of 41 food bank, increasing the visibility of hunger and its solutions, sharing food resources and influencing public policy.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

JoMont May 26, 2012 at 04:33 PM
The application process has gotten so difficult, due to software and online application requirements, that those with no computer access or the guidance to complete these applications are left frustrated and often out of the picture. The staffing for the operation process have been cut to the minimum while directors and management/supervision/analysts looms large, as they dictate to the few overworked staff, their quotas and the marks they are missing. This is the reality and regardless of how many outreach programs there are, unless there is a human being on the other side of the desk for those applying, (many with mental illness issues, literacy issues, etc.) this will continue to be a problem for years to come. Social Services has been reduced to a call center with 30 minutes plus wait periods, assuming that those on aid have the minutes in their phones...(.if they even have a phone) can wait for verbal services delivered by persons with no accountability for the cases or the people they serve. This is one area where software and tech applications have no place, yet were welcomed into the process as a means to reduce staff. It certainly is no way to deliver services timely. Perhaps it's time again to check into the inflated salaries of directors, analysts and supervision and put the manpower where it will do the community the most good. Until then, not much is going to shift, if anything at all.
Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County June 07, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Thank you for your comments - we value your input. Over the years county Health and Human Services has come a long way. Before online applications were available, clients had to stand in line for hours to submit paper applications and make multiple trips to the office to submit verifications or quarterly reporting. These trips required time and incurred transportation expenses. We understand that not everyone has access and knows how to use a computer and that the process to apply for CalFresh online can be difficult and sometimes frustrating. However, there are outreach workers located at agencies and food pantries throughout Santa Cruz County that are willing to help. They are equipped with portable computers, scanners, signature pads and wireless devices for accessing online applications. Clients being helped by these outreach workers have the opportunity to to work one-on-one, and agencies such as Second Harvest Food Bank will advocate for people if they are having any issues with their CalFresh application. We are aware that there are issues with the current phone system and Health and Human Services is currently addressing these issues. Anyone who would prefer to meet with a real person may come into our office to complete the application at Second Harvest Food Bank, 800 Ohlone Parkway in Watsonville or call us at (831) 662-0991. Thank you again for your comments.

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