Fresh Start

Since 1974, those living in California receiving federal Supplemental Security Income and State Supplementary Payments were deemed ineligible for the federal food stamp program, now known in the state as CalFresh. Instead, the state gave recipients a few extra dollars a month, called a cash-out. The amount remained frozen at $10 for many years, even as CalFresh benefits – the amount for one person ranges between $15-$192 a month – increased alongside the cost of living. California is the only state still issuing cash-outs.

That’s set to change on June 1, when the cash-outs end and SSI/SSP recipients – those considered low-income, age 65 or older or who are blind or disabled – will become eligible for CalFresh. If accepted into the program, the average range for CalFresh benefits will be $105-$110 a month, on top of SSI/SSP payments of just under $1,000.

“That’s pretty substantial for someone on a low income,” says Cindy Casinelli, deputy director of community benefits for the Monterey County Department of Social Services.

In Monterey County, more than 8,000 residents receive SSI/SSP. According to one state calculation, if 75 percent of them apply for and qualify for CalFresh, it could mean an estimated $7.5 million flowing annually into county stores and farmers markets.

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It also means a significant challenge for Casinelli’s department. If all 8,000 apply, it means a 50-percent increase in the current CalFresh caseload, currently at 16,592. The staff has been preparing for months, she says. They’ve added intake staff to process applications and have increased training efforts, as well as preparing to serve a population of blind and disabled clients they haven’t served in the past. They’re also encouraging people to apply online.

On April 29, Casinelli’s staff met with nonprofit representatives, including Catholic Charities, Dorothy’s Place and the Food Bank for Monterey County to enlist their help in getting clients to apply. The Area Agency on Aging received a $35,000 state grant to reach out to seniors.

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