Californians who use food assistance benefits received an extra boost of at least $95 in their monthly CalFresh payments during the pandemic. Now, the federal government has terminated that additional help, leaving close to 100,000 San Franciscans in the lurch.
Axios Local reported that an estimated 96,000 SF residents across 70,000 households — representing 12% of the city’s population — will collectively lose access to an extra $11.5 million in assistance a month.
The federal food assistance program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), called CalFresh in California, gave San Franciscans an extra payment ranging from $95 and $517 per month, according to Axios. The exact amount is determined by income and household size, after those who meet federal income eligibility rules sign up for the monthly benefits.
SNAP received an infusion of funding when the pandemic began in 2020 to help fight food insecurity for Americans facing furloughs, layoffs, and economic hardship. Since then, the number of San Francisco residents receiving CalFresh assistance has increased by about 51% (from January 2020 to December 2022), according to the SF Human Services Agency.
But Congress voted to end these extra benefits as part of the federal omnibus spending plan. The extra benefits were officially terminated in February, although the last remaining funds will be distributed throughout March. Additionally, California’s COVID-19 State of Emergency ended on February 28.
Do you use #CalFresh (food stamps)?— San Francisco Human Services Agency (@SFHumanServices) March 1, 2023
Your last extra COVID food money will be deposited in March.
We know this may be a stressful time and we’re here to help. Give us a call at (415) 557-5000 with any questions about CalFresh or visit https://t.co/v355EWNeYT pic.twitter.com/r0SiN32Qbe
A reported 3 million Californians will lose access to the benefits that helped them not go hungry, at a time when inflation and cost-of-living expenses are skyrocketing, according to the L.A. Times. That includes approximately 96,000 San Franciscans, according to Axios, and roughly 256,000 more households across Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, according to the Mercury Times.
San Franciscans using CalFresh benefits will see an average cut of about $160 from their monthly payments, according to the Chronicle. Some households might receive only the $23 monthly base allotment — a number calculated based on the federal cost of living, not even adjusted for the Bay Area’s high cost of living,
Local food banks that could provide extra help for those in need are also already strained from high costs. Food prices alone have rose 9.9% in 2022, according to the USDA. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank said in January that it and other food banks in the area are "stretched to the limit by inflation, shrinking government support, and declining donations."
One CalFresh recipient, Patricia Carr, a 73-year-old San Francisco resident with diabetes, told Mission Local columnist Joe Eskenazi that she was knew that the end of the extra assistance meant “a lot less” money.
Thousands of San Franciscans will soon have their food benefits sharply reduced — *to $23 a month.*— Joe Eskenazi (@EskSF) February 9, 2023
100,000 San Franciscans are affected, and the average loss per household is $160 a month. https://t.co/GopvkMpj6X pic.twitter.com/xILvb9FHiq
"I do need it,” she said in an interview. “But God bless the USA they gave it to us at all."
Experts told the Mercury News that the end of enhanced SNAP could mean that a few hundred thousand Californians could sink back below the poverty level. Caroline Danielson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, told the Mercury News that in the institute’s work, “we showed that CalFresh had twice the impact in 2021 as it did in 2019 in reducing poverty.”
“Some of that benefit will go away, and it won’t have quite the same poverty effect that it did in 2021,” Danielson said.
Research found that the extra SNAP benefits helped to keep 4.2 million people above the poverty line in the final quarter of 2021, resulting in reductions in overall poverty by 10% and child poverty by 14%, according to the economic think tank, the Urban Institute. These benefits particularly helped cut poverty rates most steeply among Black and Latino recipients.
More relief could be available from this year's farm bill, which authorizes SNAP, but Congress’ infighting might mean that these important federal nutritional programs don’t pass, Axios reported. However, some state laws could step up to address food affordability and insecurity for Californians, and a handful of food-related bills are currently working their way through Sacramento.
Related: Today, SFist Is Retiring Its COVID Data Update Page