Found Dollars, Full Plates: Butte County Benefits from CalFresh Outreach Efforts

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Jenny Sharkey heads up the CalFresh Outreach program in Butte County.

Jenny Sharkey heads up the CalFresh Outreach program in Butte County. (Photo: Christina Figone)

Fully six in ten Butte County households eligible for CalFresh (formerly known as "Food Stamps") are not participating in the program, according to a study from the California Food Policy Advocates. Now, a new outreach program seeks to enroll eligible families.

Cribbing from President Obama's "shovel-ready" stimulus, Arlene Hostetter of the Butte County Department of Employment and Eligibility calls CalFresh enrollment "fork-ready" stimulus. "The more people that receive CalFresh benefits, the more federal dollars enter the local economy," Hostetter says.

She's not kidding. The California Food Policy Advocates study estimates the low CalFresh enrollment represents $40 million lost dollars in federal CalFresh benefits, translating to $72 million in estimated loss in "associated economic activity."

Hostetter says that when people do not have to worry about how they are going to feed themselves or their families, they have more money to spend on other necessities in local stores, thus stimulating the local economy.

Jenny Sharkey heads up the CalFresh Outreach program from her office at the Center for Activity and Nutrition Promotion program at Chico State. Her program is funded by a two-year grant and Sharkey hopes to increase the number of income-eligible applicants by 1,560 households each year.

Already the outreach is working. Ellen Scroggins never thought she'd be someone who would need CalFresh. Until a few years ago, she was married and the co-owner of a local business in Oroville. After divorce and a layoff she found herself working part-time for minimum wage. Her job was at a local senior dining room as part of the job training program "Experience Works."

By coincidence, a CalFresh outreach presentation happened recently while she was working. Organizers encouraged her to apply. Online pre-screening tools help applicants see immediately if they will qualify. Scroggins had never applied before because she had some savings and knew she would be over the income limit. Now though, having used up her savings, she was eligible. Within three weeks she was approved.

Scroggins says without CalFresh she would have been "scrambling" to get by. "I have two little dogs that came with me into the abyss of unemployment," she said.



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About Rachelle Parker

Rachelle Parker was born in Oakland, California and raised in the Bay Area. Her grandmother moved to Oroville in 1960, resulting in Rachelle spending many summers and holidays in the area. Rachelle moved to Oroville in 2003. A graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in Sociology, Rachelle is a winner of the Judith Stronach Prize for prose, and contributed a story to The New City magazine in 1999 under the tutelage of Clay Felker. Rachelle has worked off and on as both a print and broadcast journalist since 1980, and is happy to bring her love of writing and her concern for her community to the task of being a citizen correspondent for KQED’s Health Dialogues.

Comments (1)

  1. Karen Downey says:

    Another great informative story about a program that is out there to help people. It really is too bad that more people don’t take advantage of this opportunity for quality fresh items to help supplement what they can afford to purchase on their own. If only 40% of the population is using this program, maybe there needs to be more advertising?? Not sure what the solution is but it is too bad that more people don’t take advantage of it. I would think they are partially paying for it through there taxes.