Q: Can you tell me if there is still a Food Stamps program and if there is, how do I know if I qualify?

A: The Food Stamps program, now called the CalFresh program, has a long history of helping to supplement people’s food budgets, to ensure everyone has access to sufficient nutrition. This program began back in 1939. It wasn’t until 2010 when the name Food Stamps was officially retired, and the nationwide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in California became known as CalFresh.

Before the name change, people carried actual paper food stamps to use at the grocery store. Today, folks receive the benefit through a card that arrives in the mail, similar to a debit card, to access funds for the purchase of food.

California officials wanted to find a way to make the program feel more accessible to the public and found the name SNAP was not well received. California changed the name and rebranded the program to help reduce stigma and increase access to this important benefit. CalFresh adopted a new logo and a new slogan: “Better Food for Better Living.”

Reference to the CalFresh program as Food Stamps has not completely faded in the community, but the goal of providing supplemental money to cover food costs remains the same.

The program is governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but administered by each state. Eligibility is determined at the county level. To qualify for the program, an application must be submitted and an interview conducted. The household must meet the income requirements and report all property and resources.

A household’s combined gross income must not exceed 130% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). However, deductions are taken for certain allowable expenses, including rent and utilities. Medical expenses may be an allowable deduction for people over the age of 60 or with disabilities. Households with an older adult (over age 60) or with an individual with disabilities do not have a gross income limit. Their household’s combined net income must not exceed 100% of the FPL after allowable deductions.

For a person living alone, 130% of the FPL is $1,396 a month in income. The maximum a single person could receive in CalFresh benefits a month is $250 if that person had no income. The higher the income, the lower the benefit amount. For a couple, 130% of the FPL is $1,888 a month in income. The maximum a couple could receive in CalFresh benefits a month is $459 if they had no income.

Attempting to guess how much you qualify for can be confusing. The key is that if you are close to the FPL amount, even if you are above it, you should apply. The County will calculate your deductions, and it is worth trying to see if you qualify.

You can apply for CalFresh several ways. In Ventura County, you can call 888-472-4463 to apply by phone, and in Los Angeles County call 866-613-3777. To apply online, go to www.mybenefitscalwin.org and complete an online application. If you prefer to apply in person, you can find locations to make an appointment in Ventura County at vchsa.org/calfresh. Additionally, households can apply by submitting an application by mail or fax at 805-658-4530. To apply in person in Los Angeles County find locations at this website by entering your address at dpss.lacounty.gov/en/food/calfresh.

The application may take around 30 days to be reviewed and decided upon. If you are in immediate need, you can request an expedited service review, and if eligible, you may receive benefits within three days.

Once someone qualifies, the card will arrive in the mail. You’ll need to call the number on the card to activate it and to check your balance. Then you can use the card at grocery stores, farmer’s markets and even some online stores. Elderly, disabled, and/or homeless households can use their CalFresh benefits at participating restaurants to purchase prepared meals. A list of participating restaurants in Ventura County can be found online at vchsa.org/rmp and in Los Angeles County at dpss.lacounty.gov/en/food/meals.html.

The card can be used toward eligible food items, including seeds to grow your own food. It cannot be used to buy non-food items, such as cigarettes, pet food, household supplies, alcohol, vitamins, and medicines—even if they are sold at food stores.

The CalFresh program is there to help ensure everyone can purchase the most basic of needs—food. A little time on the application will be worth it to know if you qualify and can take advantage of this excellent resource.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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