Reaching out for CalFresh
Efforts under way to help more Butte County residents benefit
Although CalFresh is often referred to as “food stamps,” the days when recipients paid for food with food-stamp dollars are long gone. Today they swipe a card much like a bank debit card.
It’s a technological improvement that also removes some of the stigma of being a food-stamp recipient.
Similarly, people no longer have to come into the “welfare department” to apply; they can do so online. That also removes some of the stigma—appropriately, said Cathi Grams, director of the Butte County Department of Employment and Social Services, because “CalFresh is a nutrition program, not welfare.”
Grams would like to see more federal food-stamp dollars being injected into the local economy, and more people buying and eating healthful foods. Both would benefit the county greatly, since so much of the food consumed is grown right here.
There are several reasons why people don’t apply, she said. Some aren’t aware of the program or don’t realize they meet eligibility requirements. Others lack transportation to the social-services department or cannot make it in during normal business hours. And some still feel the stigma of accepting assistance.
Her department, like those in other counties, has streamlined the application process by putting it online (at C4Yourself.com). It’s also currently in discussions with the Butte County Department of Public Health to develop an outreach program designed to target eligible seniors and the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program.
But the most significant outreach program is being run out of the Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion (CNAP), a program of the Chico State University Research Foundation.
Now in the first year of a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, CNAP is working to increase the percentage of eligible CalFresh recipients in northeastern California from 50 percent to 70 percent, the national average. For example, an estimated 29,552 Butte County residents are income eligible for CalFresh but are not participating in the program, explained Wendy Oji Kaplan, the outreach program’s coordinator.
CNAP subcontracts with existing service organizations such as the Community Action Agency of Butte County, the Torres Community Shelter, Youth for Change, the Shasta County Office of Education and First 5 Siskiyou Children & Families Commission. It provides training so these agencies can do prescreening for CalFresh eligibility, as well as help applicants with their documentation, Kaplan said.
It’s also working with local farmers’ markets to set up EBT (electronic-benefit-transfer) readers, so recipients can purchase food there. They are now available at the Chico Certified Farmers’ Markets in Chico (Saturdays and Wednesdays) as well as those in Oroville (Saturdays) and Paradise (Tuesdays and Thursdays). Also, markets run by cChaos—in Chapmantown and Southside Oroville—accept EBT cards.
Kaplan wants people to know that 60 percent of the CalFresh participants are children, and that 70 percent of CalFresh households include children. The program makes it easier for their parents, many of them among the working poor, to put nutritious food on the table.