Debunking Harmful Myths About a Powerful Program

It may surprise you to learn that San Diego has one of the most effective solutions to hunger at our fingertips. It’s called CalFresh, a program that is designed to uplift families by ensuring people receive the sustenance they need, enabling them to focus on working toward self-sufficiency. That’s a big deal.

But thousands of families in San Diego County who are eligible for CalFresh don’t use the program. Why? There are a few reasons, but a major cause is that decades ago, CalFresh was called “food stamps.” These two words conjure up a storm of stigma, stereotypes and misinformation powerful enough to keep families struggling with hunger from applying for this food assistance.

While the connotations of food stamps have always been based in myth, today they are further from the truth than ever. The reality is that after decades of improvements and technology upgrades to the program, CalFresh has become one of the most effective, wide-reaching strategies we have for bringing food to the plates of people who don’t have enough to eat.

We invite you to learn these facts about CalFresh and share them with your friends and family. If we remove the harmful stigma of CalFresh and build awareness of its benefits, we will be one step closer to ensuring no one in San Diego has to go to bed hungry.

What exactly is CalFresh?

CalFresh is simply a monthly supplement to a household’s food budget. On average, the program offers $4.38 per person, per day disbursed to a debit card (called an EBT card) that can be used to purchase a limited category of food products (no tobacco, alcohol, toiletries or hot foods). Households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line should apply to see if they qualify for the program.

CalFresh is the California name for the federally funded program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) at the national level. It is the more advanced, modern and effective iteration of “food stamps.”

Does it work?

Like a charm. On average, households in San Diego County enroll in CalFresh for just under two years before moving towards food security. CalFresh changes lives – just ask Jim.

What’s the problem?
Only an estimated 67 percent of eligible, food-insecure people in San Diego County are enrolled in CalFresh. Enrollment rates are low because of barriers like social stigma, lengthy application processes and lack of awareness.

To fix this, San Diego Hunger Coalition leads the CalFresh Task Force, a group of over 50 organizations including the San Diego Food Bank and others, working together to improve our CalFresh enrollment systems. By leading research, education and advocacy efforts among a wide range of hunger relief partners in San Diego, the Hunger Coalition builds a more effective and interconnected system of food assistance resources to help families access the food they need.

What are some myths about CalFresh I can help debunk?

Myth: CalFresh has high rates of fraud.

Fact: CalFresh has one of the most rigorous quality control systems and the lowest fraud rates of any public benefit program, less than 2%.

Myth: Applying for CalFresh can impact my immigration status.

Fact: Applying for CalFresh does not affect your immigration status or your application for citizenship in any way. Legal permanent residents are eligible for CalFresh immediately in California, and receiving benefits will not hurt your chances of becoming a citizen. Similarly, if you are an undocumented immigrant and apply for CalFresh on behalf of your citizen children, your immigration status will not be shared with authorities. Confidentiality is strictly enforced at all CalFresh offices.

How can I make a difference?

Share the facts with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. If you think a friend or neighbor may qualify for CalFresh, tell them that many community-based organizations like San Diego Food Bank are able to help them through the enrollment process. Click here for more information on these agencies.