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.