For the first time in more than four decades, recipients of a federal nutrition program will see a noticeable jump in food benefits, coming just as pandemic-related assistance starts to wind down for many families. Starting today, October 1, payments for CalFresh (known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) will increase about 22% compared to pre-pandemic levels. For a family of four receiving the maximum benefit, the difference is an extra $155 per month. When compared to benefit amounts that include temporary pandemic relief, their monthly allotment starting in October will be about $53 more.
“People are finally getting a bit more help to put food on their tables,” said Margareta Hodzic, Assistant Director of Employment and Benefits Services for the County of Santa Clara Social Services Agency. “This increase is even more important for our local residents, because it’s very expensive to live here. When you have to use most of your limited income for rent, utilities, and transportation, there isn’t a whole lot left to feed your family.”
Food insecurity in Santa Clara County is widespread, with many residents making day-to-day choices between whether to pay rent or buy groceries. The COVID-19 health crisis has only deepened the need, with the number of people in Santa Clara County seeking CalFresh food assistance increasing by about 22% since the pandemic began. Children and adults ages 65 and older make up more than half of those receiving assistance. Of those enrolled, there is also an overrepresentation of minority groups, including Hispanic, Black, and Vietnamese community members – all populations who are hardest hit by the pandemic.
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“These are members of our community who, before the pandemic, already faced more obstacles than everyone else. The more resources we have to make life more equitable for all residents, the more resilient we are as a community,” said Angela Shing, Director of Employment and Benefits Services for the County of Santa Clara Social Services Agency.
To address the growing hunger during COVID-19, the federal administration increased the maximum benefit amount for all recipients, regardless of income level, and added a temporary 15% increase. While the maximum allotment will continue for now, the 15% bump ended on September 30.
“Whatever additional assistance we can get to families will be tremendously helpful, as the need has grown larger than ever. Pandemic funding is temporary, so we are relieved to see more long-term, permanent resources for struggling individuals and families,” said Robert Menicocci, Director of the Social Services Agency. “Increasing these benefits is not only critical to reducing hunger and improving the health of our community, it is also important to restoring our local economy.”
The United States Department of Agriculture has shown that for every $1 distributed through CalFresh/SNAP, it generates about $1.79 in economic benefit. CalFresh Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards can be used at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and to purchase groceries online for home delivery through Amazon, Walmart, and participating Albertsons, Safeway, and Vons locations. In addition, the County’s Restaurant Meals Program allows CalFresh clients who are disabled, homeless, or 60 years and older to use EBT cards to buy prepared meals at participating restaurants.
For more information on eligibility and how to sign up for CalFresh benefits, visit the County’s Social Services Agency website in English, Spanish or Vietnamese. Services by phone are available by calling (408) 758-3800. Mail and fax applications are also available upon request.