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Change in law means thousands more SF residents will receive food stamps

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CalFresh currently provides nutrition assistance to 50,000 low-income San Francisco residents, and soon an additional 12,000 people or more will become eligible in a significant expansion of the food stamp program. (Courtesy photo)

A change in state law will soon give thousands of San Francisco’s low-income elderly and disabled residents receiving Supplemental Security Income, who were previously not eligible for food stamps, access to the program.

Since 1974, under state law Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, recipients in California have not been eligible to receive food stamps, which is called CalFresh,.

Instead, SSI recipients were entitled to an additional $10 through what is known as the “cashout” policy. However, the state legislature changed the policy this past summer to allow these recipients to start receiving CalFresh benefits beginning in the summer of 2019.

There are 43,000 elderly and disabled SSI recipients in San Francisco. The City estimates about 29 percent of the SSI recipients, or 12,600, will meet the state’s eligibility requirements to start receiving CalFresh.

CalFresh currently provides nutrition assistance to 50,000 low-income San Francisco residents, so the change represents a significant expansion in the food stamp program.

To prepare, Trent Rhorer, executive director of the Human Services Agency, is asking to hire 33 more positions to help people now eligible to enroll in the food stamp program.

The hiring plan, which will cost $4.6 million a year in salaries and benefits, was approved by the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee last Thursday. Rhorer noted that state and federal funds will pay for 85 percent of the new positions and San Francisco 15 percent. The full board will vote Dec. 4 on the new positions.

He praised the state policy change. “It’s a positive change, of course, increasing individual’s ability to purchase food,” Rhorer said.

Instead of getting the $10 they will get the Calfresh benefits of between $75 and $97 per month to purchase food, he said.

Rhorer said that in addition to benefiting the person, it also contributes to the local economy.

He said the expected enrollment will result in an estimated increase of $11 million to $15 million a year spent by recipients in grocery stores, local merchants, farmers markets and in eligible restaurants.

A November statement from the California Department of Social Services said that “this historic change, once successfully implemented, will increase nutrition and health and reduce hunger and poverty among California’s seniors and people with disabilities.”

Meanwhile, the agency is working to prevent thousands of existing CalFresh recipients from losing benefits under a work requirement for those aged between 18 and 49 and who are “able-bodied adults without dependents.”

The requirement dates back to 1996. In recent years, however, San Francisco and counties throughout the state have had a waiver due to the recession beginning in 2008. But with San Francisco’s booming economy, it lost the waiver this year.

The work requirement went into effect on Sept. 1 and gives people three months to comply. That means that benefits could be lost as soon as Dec. 1. But the Human Services Agency said no one is expected to lose their benefits until 2019 as they continue to work with the estimated 3,000 who remain at risk of losing them. There is some flexibility in the time to comply, such as if recipients are making an effort to get a job or trying to get an exemption verified.

jsabatini@sfmediaco.com

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