Since the pandemic started, people receiving CalFresh benefits in California have gotten the maximum benefit for their household size. Households already receiving that amount became eligible for at least another $95 a month.
Those extra payments end this month: The last installment will be deposited in household EBT accounts on March 26.
CalFresh benefits are one of many things changing as the country inches toward the expiry of the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration, which expires May 11. With hundreds of thousands of people impacted, food banks and mutual aid groups in the Sacramento area are preparing for increased need.
CapRadio put together answers to questions about what’s changing, a resource list for where to access food in the area and a set of suggestions for how to get involved with food access efforts:
How much will my benefits change?
Since the start of the pandemic, CalFresh automatically gave each household the maximum amount of benefits, based on its size and eligibility. If you were already getting the maximum pre-pandemic, you might have been getting at least $95 extra a month.
Now that pandemic-related states of emergency are starting to end — and related funding is, too — recipients will return to receiving pre-pandemic benefits, as long as household circumstances have not changed.
“Changes can include income changes, people moving in or out of your home, changes in student status and changes in housing, utilities and medical costs,” said Sacramento County spokesperson Allison Harris.
Those changes can be reported online, or by calling your county’s CalFresh office. In Yolo County, the number is 855-278-1594; in Sacramento County, it’s 916-874-3100.
Anyone receiving CalFresh can check how much they’re normally receiving by calling 916-874-3100 and choosing option 1, she said.
Does CalFresh have other programs to help make up for the loss?
Starting now through December, anyone getting CalFresh benefits can earn up to an extra $60 if they get California-grown fruits and vegetables at certain farmers’ markets and grocery stores. It’s a 1:1 match, so if you purchase $8 of produce, you’ll get $8 of benefits back.
The initial two locations are in Sacramento County:
- Country Club Plaza Farmers’ Market: Butano Drive Parking Lot, 2405 Butano Drive Sacramento, CA 95825
- Sunrise Station Farmers’ Market: Light Rail Parking Lot, Sunrise Blvd & Folsom Blvd Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
More locations will be announced in Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, Mendocino, Napa, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Clara Counties later this year. It’s a pilot program greenlighted by Assembly Bill 1181.
There’s also the Market Match program, in which anyone getting CalFresh can visit eligible farmers’ markets and receive up to $10 to spend on produce.
Local nonprofit Alchemist CDC put together a searchable map with eligible locations in Yolo and Sacramento Counties.
Is there anything else that’s changing?
Some college students may no longer be eligible to receive CalFresh benefits.
Under the changes to CalFresh made in response to the pandemic, college students who are eligible for work-study or whose families are unable to contribute anything to tuition could receive CalFresh benefits.
Beginning June 10, the pre-pandemic requirements apply. College students are only eligible if they meet income limits and satisfy one of the items on a list maintained by CalFresh. Some items include:
- Approved for work study and anticipating work
- Has Cal Grant A or B
- Working 20 hours per week or a total of 80 hours per month
- Disabled or physically or mentally unable to work
- Single parent responsible for the care of a dependent under 12
How are local groups preparing to support community members?
“We’re bracing for a surge in April, as people lose those benefits, and the cost of food continues to be sky high,” said Kevin Buffalino, the director of communications at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.
Buffalino said the food bank is already supporting 80% more people than it did at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services buys around 60% of its food and is currently looking to see where it can buy more, he said, though it also accepts edible food from grocery stores that couldn’t sell it.
But, Buffalino noted, “we're not immune to inflation either. We are paying significantly more for products as well. That dozen eggs that we were paying about 90 cents for back in 2020? We're now paying well over $2 for, and we're buying pallets of these things. So multiply that by thousands of cartons of eggs. So our costs are increasing as well.”
Most of Yolo Food Bank’s stock comes from those edible recovery donations, said Karen Baker.
“We're trying to recover food in as dramatic of a fashion and as aggressive of a fashion as we can,” she said of preparing for the end of emergency benefits. “That's part of the strategy. The other reality is really raising the funds.”
She hopes, through donations, to secure culturally appropriate food for Yolo County residents who access the food bank.
“If you give me the cash, I can go to farmers, and to those, you know, local distributors, and be able to purchase very healthy, culturally appropriate food that matters to the audience that we're trying to reach,” she said.
The Awkward Gardener’s Community Table is a mutual aid service that initially started to provide meals for encampments and divert food waste, but now also stocks several of the free fridges and pantries throughout the Sacramento area.
In a statement, TAG’s Community Table said it’s similarly worried about the impact the CalFresh benefit reduction will have, as it’s already seeing fewer food and financial donations, “likely due to the financial impacts of the holiday season, inflation and tax season.”
“In turn, I am also seeing a decrease in supply to the pantries from contributors as we experience the impact of cuts and increased costs affecting everyone,” TAG’s Community Table said.
An empty free pantry located next to Frank Seymour Park in Sacramento, Calif., pictured on Mar. 3, 2023.Janelle Salanga/CapRadio
It doesn’t see its work as charity, but as mutual aid.
It’s “about sharing our resources and pooling our efforts to address the gaps where the system has failed us,” the group said. “Mutual aid seeks to harness the power of community to lessen the burden of obtaining basic necessities and resources so that one does not have to live in the stress of survival mode and can more easily work towards stability.”
In Oak Park, Matthew Ampersand has also been trying to divert food waste back into the community. To do so, he started a gleaning program called Community Fruit 916 in 2019.
“Most of our neighbors have limited access to fresh, healthy food, and we were seeing oranges and lemons and fruit just dropping off trees and rotting,” he said. “So I started knocking on doors and asking if I could harvest the fruit, and then redistributing it to our neighbors who would appreciate some increased access to fresh healthy food.”
Last year, Ampersand and other community members helping pick up neighborhood fruit in Sacramento gave away over 17,000 pounds of fruit.
“There really is the opportunity for abundance,” he said. “And the idea of scarcity of food in this area — I don't think it's real. I think there's a lot of food here, and we can just share it better.”
In coming months, he’s hoping to shift the program into a nonprofit to help it grow, and increase how much local fruit it’s able to redistribute.
Places to access free food in the Sacramento area:
- Sacramento Food Bank:
- Tuesday, 9-11 a.m. via drive through at Arcade Church (3867 Marconi Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95821)
- Thursday, 9-11 a.m. via drive through at Daughters of Zion Enterpryz (6489 47th St, Sacramento, CA 95823)
- Map of over 100 partner locations, which have their own distribution days
- River City Food Bank:
- Tuesday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at 1800 28th St. Sacramento, CA 95816
- Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at The Center at St. Matthew’s (2300 Edison Ave Sacramento, CA 95821)
- Community pantries and fridges: Available 24/7, though stock may vary
- 1322 F St., Sacramento, 95814
- 2402 I St., Sacramento, 95816
- 3349 44th St., Sacramento, 95817
- Mission Ave & Marconi Ave, Sacramento, 95821
- Pantries (no fridge):
- 833 Florin Rd., Sacramento, 95831
- 1617 25th St., Sacramento, 95816
- 5930 19th Ave., Sacramento, 95820
- 2417 Aramon Dr., Rancho Cordova, 95670
- 425 Lampasas Ave., Sacramento, 95815
- 5498 Carlson Dr., Sacramento, 95819
- 3200 16th Ave., Sacramento, 95820 (alley)
- 2021 Bell St., Sacramento, 95825
How to get involved with food distribution and access efforts:
- Pantry cleanouts: If you have unexpired food in your pantry that you’re not eating, The Awkward Gardener’s Community Table will pick it up (visit @tagcommunitytable on Instagram for more details). River City Food Bank also accepts unexpired donations of canned food and peanut butter at its Midtown location Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and at St. Matthews Thursday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m..
- Filling the pantries/free fridges: These fridges operate 24/7, and anyone can drop off food. Good practice involves listing ingredients in any prepared food and not sharing anything expired.
- Fruit pick-up: If you have a fruit tree with ripe fruit that you can either drop off or want to have picked up for redistribution, Community Fruit 916 asks that you reach out via [email protected] or fill out the Google form toward the bottom of this page.
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