Bring a Million to Humboldt County: Five Years and Growing
Food for People’s “Bring a Million to Humboldt County” campaign educates the community about the benefits of CalFresh and helps eligible households apply for benefits. CalFresh is a USDA nutrition assistance program that helps low-income households purchase the foods they need for good health. In October 2010 California’s name for the Food Stamp Program changed to CalFresh, to emphasize that the program promotes healthy living, supports California agriculture, is a nutrition program, and no longer uses “stamps”. Currently more than 18,000 Humboldt County residents participate in CalFresh, which is a little less than two-thirds of the total eligible, and they spend more than $2.5 million CalFresh dollars monthly in the local economy. According to California Food Policy Advocates, Humboldt County misses out on an additional $1.05 million each month available to households not currently enrolled. In addition, CalFresh dollars ripple throughout the local economy at a rate of $1.79 for every CalFresh dollar spent, improving business for local stores, farms, workers and beyond. Based on this rate of economic impact, the $12.6 million in CalFresh that Humboldt County leaves on the table for the year translates to a loss of $22.6 million in local economic impact due to low enrollment.
Since launching the Bring a Million campaign in 2009, nationwide participation in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program- the name for CalFresh at the federal level) increased from 36 million to 46 million people. Humboldt County experienced a 64% increase, jumping from 11,000 participants (about half of which were children) spending $1.75 million at local stores and farmers’ markets each month to the current 18,000 local residents spending more than $2.5 million monthly.
Why the dramatic increase in SNAP participation in the last few years? For one, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 has been the worst since the Great Depression, with impacts extending into and past 2011. While it may be considered “over,” recovery has been very weak, especially and specifically amongst low-income households. It is no wonder that SNAP usage has not decreased. Many economic studies show the link between the recession and increased use of SNAP. SNAP has helped to alleviate a great deal of hunger in our nation and community as people who were suddenly out of work struggled to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. It has helped keep households out of poverty and indirectly saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in the grocery industry, demonstrating public policy at its best.
According to the California Center for Rural Policy, “The prevalence of very low food security in the Redwood Coast Region is more than two times the prevalence in California,” and this severe level of food insecurity results in “reduced food intake, disrupted eating patterns or hunger,” and is “associated with numerous poor health outcomes including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and poor cognitive, academic and psychological outcomes.”
Food for People’s outreach program highlights ways CalFresh households can incorporate healthy food into their diets affordably. One such way is through local farmers’ markets that accept CalFresh. This marks the fourth season of Market Match, a program Food for People launched locally in partnership with the North Coast Growers’ Association (NCGA). Today Market Match increases CalFresh purchasing power at NCGA farmers’ markets in Eureka, Arcata and McKinleyville, and has expanded to markets in Fortuna and Garberville. Thanks to grants from Roots of Change, the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and a California Department of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant, the program provides a bonus of extra farmers’ market dollars to shoppers using their CalFresh EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) debit cards.
CalFresh shoppers purchase wooden dollar tokens at the market manager’s booth, and with Market Match receive a free bonus of $5 in tokens when they spend $10 in CalFresh. CalFresh shoppers then use the tokens to purchase items directly from farmers’ booths. This increases low-income households’ access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, seeds, and plant starts, while supporting Humboldt County farmers and the local economy. With increasing education about CalFresh over the last several years and availability of Market Match, NCGA CalFresh sales have increased from $5,493 in 2008 to $52,177 in 2013. Anyone interested in learning more about using CalFresh at farmers’ markets can visit a market manager’s booth.
Food for People’s CalFresh Outreach Program has helped people apply for CalFresh (Food Stamps) since 2003, as a means to connect clients to another resource for nutrition. When clients who are eligible for CalFresh enroll, it also helps the food bank stretch its food resources to assist people who have no other options for making it through each month. More than a decade ago, the Outreach Program had one part-time staff person who offered assistance in filling out applications and delivering the completed application to DHHS. Over the years the food bank’s level of service has grown to meet the need for increased assistance beyond the initial application. Now a team of three provides an increased level of assistance, helping clients to gather and submit documents requested by the County and assisting with eligibility interviews, semi-annual reports, and recertification, so clients can access and maintain benefits as long as they are eligible. Even if a household did not apply for CalFresh through Food for People, staff are available to help answer questions and assist with any part of the eligibility and reporting processes. It is also possible to apply online at www.c4yourself.com and to complete the entire process by phone and mail. Food for People, DHHS and other organizations coordinate outreach efforts locally through the Humboldt County CalFresh Task Force. Throughout June, July, and August, Food for People’s Outreach team will travel around the county visiting food pantries, senior meal sites, family resource centers, and other community locations to answer questions and help people apply for CalFresh.
Why Increase CalFresh Participation?
- CalFresh creates a healthier Humboldt. It helps children, seniors, families and other individuals afford to incorporate more nutritious foods, like fruits and vegetables, into their diets.
- CalFresh supports the local economy. In Humboldt County, approximately 18,000 residents use their EBT debit cards to spend $2.5 million CalFresh dollars monthly at local grocery stores and farmers’ markets, which helps support local businesses and jobs. Enrolling the rest of the county’s eligible residents could bring an additional $1.05 million to the local economy each month, which would have an economic impact of $1.88 million monthly.
- Grow a garden with CalFresh. CalFresh can be used to purchase seeds and plants that produce food. Utilizing CalFresh to start a garden is an economical way to get one’s hands on the health benefits of fresh, local produce throughout the season. Seeds and food-producing plant starts are readily available at farmers’ markets and many local grocery stores.
Key CalFresh & Hunger Statistics
- SNAP (CalFresh at the federal level) now serves 1 in 7 Americans and nearly 1 in 4 children.
- Half of all children in the United States will be part of a SNAP household during their childhood.
- In Humboldt County, 13% of residents, or 18,000 people, utilize CalFresh. Nearly half are children.
- According to USDA, more than 1 in 7 American households suffer from food insecurity (almost 15% of the population or 49 million people in 17.6 million households). Food insecure households are defined as having difficulty, at some time during a year, providing enough food for all household members due to a lack of resources.
- Recent Census Bureau data revealed that 17% of Californians lived in poverty in 2012. The rate for children is disproportionately higher at 23.8% for all California children. 22% of all residents, and 27% of children in Humboldt County lived in poverty in 2012. The Federal Poverty Line (FPL) for a family of four is set at an annual income of $23,850 or less. The FPL is used to establish eligibility guidelines for assistance programs, like CalFresh, but many people whose income exceeds these guidelines are still unable to make ends meet.
Who Is Eligible for CalFresh?
- CalFresh is guaranteed as a right to anyone who is eligible. Any U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident with a valid Social Security Number can apply. It is also safe to apply for one’s children born in the United States, even if parents are ineligible.
- Eligibility includes meeting the income guidelines, which vary depending on household size.
Myths and Misunderstandings
- One reason why eligible households do not participate in CalFresh is they simply do not know they are eligible. The program helps to boost the food budgets of both working and unemployed households and those on fixed incomes such as Social Security. Currently, only 10% of eligible seniors and just 5% of eligible Social Security recipients participate.
- By participating in the program one is not taking benefits that could otherwise be given to someone else. CalFresh benefits are guaranteed by the government to all who are eligible.
- New rules have improved access to the program, thus some who were ineligible in the past may now be eligible.
- Owning one or more cars does not make one ineligible for the program, nor does owning one’s home, having money in the bank, or having retirement (IRAs, 401K, pension) or education accounts (529s).
- No information given to DHHS is shared with any other government entity, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). Applying for one’s U.S.-born children is completely safe.
For more information on Bring a Million to Humboldt County or CalFresh, contact Food for People:
Heidi McHugh, Community Edu. & Outreach Coordinator: (707) 445-3166 ext. 308 firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Quintana, CalFresh Application Assistor (707) 445-3166 ext. 318 email@example.com
Apply with us at Food for People OR click here to apply online right now at www.c4yourself.com
It is also possible to apply directly with the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) by calling 1-877-410-8809 or visiting one of their offices:
- 929 Koster Street in Eureka
- 535 Airport Rd in Hoopa
- 727 Cedar Street in Garberville
Or apply with DHHS in a community near you, at the DHHS Mobile Engagement Vehicle (MEV). To see the MEV schedule, click here.