A new bill introduced to the California Senate with the goal of simplifying the CalFresh application process for senior citizens and to generally remove barriers stopping seniors who qualify from applying was referred to to Senate Health and Human Services Committee late last week.
Change of policy at CalFresh
Under Senate Bill 882, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), all seniors applying or reapplying for CalFresh, known outside of California as food stamps or SNAP, would no longer have to go in-person. Instead, a new system in which applicants can call in by phone, e-mail, or mail via the U.S. Postal Service will be used. Applicants can also still apply or reapply in person under the bill.
Language for the process would also be simplified into easier-to-understand language and would have the California Department of Social Services follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Elderly Simplified Application Project to increase access for those needing CalFresh benefits. The semiannual reports that CalFresh currently requires for Elderly Simplified Application Project participants would also end, essentially making the changes under SB 882 to be less reported on overall.
“We must ensure more older Californians can access CalFresh by simplifying the process.”
Senator Wiener wrote the bill in response to recent findings on Seniors who currently qualify for CalFresh benefits. According to California Food Policy Advocates, currently about 40% of Californians over the age of 60 qualify for benefits, a percentage that has grown 15% since 2005. At the same time only 19% of those who qualify in California are enrolled, compared to the U.S. average of 42%. While there are many factors for this disparity, the current application and reapplication process of having to physically go into a government office to reapply has often been cited as the biggest reason.
“I’m proud to author this critical legislation, one of many bills I’ve spearheaded to help Californians access CalFresh, that will help those needing food assistance access it,” said Senator Wiener in an earlier press release. “It is unacceptable that in a country and a state with so many resources and so much wealth, people are going hungry and are unable to receive the most basic benefits. The current application and recertification processes are unnecessarily challenging, and we must ensure more older Californians can access CalFresh by simplifying the process. No one should go without food. Now, it’ll be easier for seniors, working families, individuals with disabilities and anyone who needs food assistance to apply for and receive CalFresh benefits.”
Issues surrounding SB 882
Critics have said that the bill will not lead to a large increase of senior CalFresh participants and that getting rid of some of the reporting will distort figures.
“A lot of seniors that are ‘immobile’ or don’t have access to travel have a lot of options to get to places to reapply,” noted senior citizen care worker and advocate Rick Logan-Wright. “Friends, family, senior travel lines, free bus passes, free handicap travel systems. It doesn’t cover everyone but it covers the majority.”
“Bigger reasons I’ve seen include pride, shame for having to rely on the system, embarrassment over it. Current seniors now come from a generation where receiving public assistance was largely shameful or looked down upon. Part of what I do is help convince them otherwise. Yes, there are those who can’t physically get there and need the phone or internet to do it, but what we should be focusing on is telling seniors it’s ok to need help. They paid into the system their entire lives, so if they need help, they have earned it. I always try to explain it as ‘insurance’ like unemployment. It doesn’t feel great to have to use it, but you’ve paid into it, and a hardship has come, so you should use it. Or reapply for it if you still need help.”
“But no, they think having a phone bank will fix it.”
“No politician is going to say ‘let’s cut seniors out of this this program even though they need it to live’. No, we need need to get past the psychological barrier for seniors who need help if we want to help the most people.”
SB 882 is currently in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and is expected to be heard in committee next month.