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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 12th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 15

Recipients of supplemental income payments are now eligible for CalFresh for the first time in decades

By KASEY BUBNASH

There are roughly 8,388 Santa Barbara County residents who receive supplemental income payments from the government because they are either disabled, over the age of 65, or both. 


Cash in on CalFresh
To apply for CalFresh, visit calfresh.dss.ca.gov/food, where you can print off an application, or apply in-person at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria location, 490 W. Foster Road.

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and State Supplemental Payment (SSP) programs use tax revenue to help disabled and retired individuals—who may not be able to work long hours or at all—buy food, clothes, and pay bills each month. But for years SSI and SSP recipients in California have not been eligible for CalFresh, the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—aka food stamps—the program that gives low-income individuals up to $192 a month for groceries. 

That all changed on June 1, when a bill that creates two new state programs went into effect, making SSI and SSP recipients eligible to apply for CalFresh for the first time in decades. 

For most SSI and SSP recipients, that extra help can go a long way, according to Maria Gardner, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Department of Social Services

“It really does make the difference between life and death,” she said. 

Most who participate in the SSI and SSP programs receive an average of about $931 a month from the programs and have little to no other source of income, Gardner said. That isn’t much to live on, especially in California, and Gardner said she’s heard “horror stories” from clients who’ve had to ration their medications throughout the month just to pay for groceries. 

SSI and SSP recipients’ inability to access CalFresh has long been talked about in California. The issue stems from a $10 cash-out that SSI and SSP recipients receive each month in lieu of CalFresh benefits, a part of the program that was developed by state legislators decades ago. 

When the in-lieu cash-out was originally developed in 1974, Gardner said it was intended to simplify the process, so that people receiving SSI or SSP wouldn’t also have to go through an application process for food stamps. When the cash-out was developed in 1974, $10 went a lot further than it does today, and Gardner said that number hasn’t changed to keep pace with inflation. 

CalFresh recipients get an average of $100 a month for groceries, but because of the cash-out, those in the SSI and SSP programs have been recieving $10 a month instead.

Now, Gardner said, they’ll be able to apply to get both. 

About 39,000 Santa Barbara County residents receive CalFresh in roughly 21,000 households, according to Gardner. Roughly 8,388 receive SSI, and Gardner said that while the county wants all of them to apply for CalFresh, it’s estimated that 3,381 will meet the requirements necessary to receive CalFresh benefits. 

“The trick is, will they all apply?” she said. 

Although the expansion just went into effect at the beginning of June, Gardner said the county’s Social Services offices are already seeing about double the number of applications they usually get— though Gardner said they’re not sure if all the additional applications are coming in because of the expansion. 

SSI and SSP recipients were able to begin applying for CalFresh in May, and Gardner said that although the county won’t be hiring any new employees to help with the heavy load, county staffers have been working overtime to process those applications and deal with those still coming in. 

For months the county Department of Social Services has been working to get the word out about the CalFresh expansion and all the ways to apply—in person, online, or over the phone. Partner organizations, like the Area Agencies on Aging and the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, have also been helping to do some of the heavy lifting. 

Daisy Basulto is the Foodbank’s CalFresh outreach coordinator. She helps individuals apply for CalFresh, helps process the applications—which she said takes about 30 days on average—and she trains employees at other county agencies how to process CalFresh applications. 

Basulto said California is one of the last states to allow SSI recipients to apply for food stamps. She said she’s not entirely sure why, but the issue is complex. In some instances, a household receiving CalFresh benefits could actually lose money each month by adding a family member who receives SSI to the household plan. 

It took a while for legislators to work out those kinks, but with the passage and implementation of the 2018-19 human services omnibus bill, the state made room in its budget for two new programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Benefit and Transitional Nutrition Benefit programs. Both programs ensure that recipients won’t lose benefits for their households by applying for CalFresh. 

County staff and other organizations like the Foodbank can help applicants figure those specifics out, Basulto said. What’s important now, she said, is that SSI and SSP recipients at least apply for CalFresh. For years, many of the county’s SSI and SSP recipients have relied on the Foodbank for groceries because she said the $10 monthly cash-out just wasn’t enough. 

“A lot of people who receive SSI and SSP are seniors or disabled and need a lot of help, and they can’t apply for this benefit that would go a long way for them,” Basulto said. “So I think that’s why California finally decided to get on board.” 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at kbubnash@santamariasun.com




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