Senator Menjivar Pursues Increase In Nutrition Assistance With CalFresh Minimum Benefit Adequacy Act of 2023
Mitigating the impacts of inflation and California’s high cost of living on low-income individuals, families, seniors, and people with disabilities who struggle to afford groceries
SACRAMENTO, CA – Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) introduced SB 600 on February 15, 2023, the CalFresh Minimum Benefit Adequacy Act of 2023. This bill would require the California Department of Social Services to provide additional CalFresh nutrition assistance, ensuring all participating households receive a minimum monthly benefit of $50. This increase above the federally established minimum of $23 a month, would reflect inflated costs in California and address the inadequacy of federal benefit levels.
Over 5 million Californians currently receive CalFresh nutrition assistance, and it is the state’s most effective anti-hunger program. A report from the Public Policy Institute of California found, “Roughly half of California’s young children participate in CalFresh by the time they turn six.” When individuals and families are able to obtain nutritional assistance, they can focus on other financial obligations, such as rent and utilities.
The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), determining the minimum allotment of SNAP benefits and distributed through CalFresh, estimates the average cost of groceries for a family of 2 is over $400 a month. Yet, TFP does not take into consideration the high cost of living in states like California.
The COVID-19 federal “emergency allotments,” which increased SNAP benefits to an average of $262 a month, will end February with the final increased benefit received in March 2023. This abrupt decrease can be devastating for CalFresh recipients who are still experiencing the impacts of the pandemic and inflation; job loss, illness, and income instability. Other states, like New Jersey, have already responded by lifting their Minimum Nutrition Benefit to $95.
Senator Caroline Menjivar spotlights how crucial increasing nutrition assistance is for California, stating, “CalFresh is an essential safety net that supports the health of low-income individuals and families, protects older adults in our communities from hunger, helps working families stabilize their income, and it is a necessary component to the programs which lift Californians out of poverty. A one person household will exhaust the $23 CalFresh minimum aid in less than 4 days. We cannot watch a hunger spike unfold in our state while we stand idly by. We must fortify programs like CalFresh now, as we continue to form solutions to California’s overarching issues of systemic poverty and food insecurity, and while developing strategies to expand economic opportunities.”
Frank Tamborello, Executive Director of Hunger Action LA, writes, “Senator Menjivar’s bill to increase the minimum CalFresh benefit to $50 per month is the right solution at the right time. Roughly 25% of Los Angeles is experiencing hunger or difficulty affording enough food, and statewide a half billion dollars per month will be lost when CalFresh emergency allotments are eliminated. Senator Menjivar’s bill mitigates some of this loss as well as the double whammy of inflation that’s hurting our families, seniors and people with disabilities. Hunger Action LA applauds this measure and encourages all Californians to support it including our city and county officials.”
“We are grateful for Senator Menjivar’s leadership that no one in California should go hungry as the end of the Emergency Allotments – coming in just a few weeks – will create a hunger cliff the magnitude of which our state has never seen. Raising the CalFresh benefit to a minimum of $50 a month will provide a lifeline to prevent hunger, and build on CalFresh’s proven track record in lifting children and families out of poverty by making sure they have the financial resources to meet their basic need for food. What’s more, every $1 in CalFresh benefits generates as much as $1.80 in total economic activity – creating jobs across California vital food and farming economy.” Shimica Gaskins, President & CEO, GRACE/End Child Poverty CA
“We applaud Senator Menjivar’s leadership in introducing SB 600.” said Jared Call, Senior Advocate with Nourish California. “This timely legislation will boost vital CalFresh benefits, particularly for households with older adults and people with disabilities, who often face additional challenges in meeting their basic needs. We are proud to partner with our bill cosponsors in urging California to join the several other states that have already taken this action to help prevent poverty and food insecurity.”
“We are thrilled to see this bill introduced by Senator Menjivar. It is a crucial step towards strengthening CalFresh, our most effective anti-hunger program,” said Becky Silva, government relations director for the California Association of Food Banks. “At a time when 1 in 5 Californians are experiencing hunger, the cost of groceries is at record levels, and the federal boost to CalFresh through Emergency Allotments is ending, it is critical that we are taking bold action to ensure everyone can put food on the table. The current CalFresh minimum of $23 per month is inadequate for covering even the most basic groceries. We are excited that this bill gives the California legislature an opportunity to better support CalFresh recipients in feeding themselves and their families.”
By requiring the California Department of Social Services to raise minimum monthly benefits from $23 to $50 for all CalFresh participating households, SB 600 will help to ensure low-income Californians do not go hungry while also creating jobs, benefiting our state’s food economy, and incentivizing more people in need to sign up for the program. This directly aligns with the White House Conference on Hunger goal to increase food access and affordability.