- Starting June 1, hundreds of thousands of California residents who are elderly or disabled will become eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through the state's CalFresh program.
- CalFresh is being expanded to include Californians who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a federal need-based program. Current state law prohibits anyone who collects SSI from also receiving food assistance, but a bill signed last year will change it.
- With CalFresh benefits, which range from $15 to $92 per person each month, individuals and families can purchase more fruit, vegetables and other fresh foods. Food may be purchased at grocery stores, farmers markets or other CalFresh-approved locations that accepts EBT cards.
California is the last state to make federal food benefits available to SSI recipients. When former Governor Jerry Brown signed his final budget last year before leaving office, it included an investment in the CalFresh program. Before that change, individuals receiving SSI got a $10 supplemental food benefit each month, but they were not eligible for SNAP benefits through CalFresh. Starting next month, an additional 370,000 California households may be able to enroll in the program.
Which chains stand to benefit? Conventional players like Albertsons-owned Safeway and Kroger's Ralphs and Food 4 Less banners have long dominated the state's grocery scene, but specialty companies and discounters have grown rapidly. Aldi is making an aggressive play in Southern California, with 15 new stores in the region set to open this year, bringing its total to 78.
Food assistance has been in the spotlight recently. In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a pilot program that will allow SNAP recipients to purchase their groceries online, though the benefits will not cover delivery fees. Amazon, Walmart and ShopRite are part of the program that started in the New York City metro area. Kim McCoy Wade, chief of CalFresh, told the Desert Sun that California expects to be included in the online pilot program in the future.
SNAP is designed to help people in need access healthier food options, but retailers benefit from the program as well. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), SNAP accounts for more than 10% of food purchased by U.S. families and those benefits increase the purchasing power of low-income households. In 2017, participants redeemed more than $63 billion in benefits for food purchases.
Retailers who accept SNAP range from mass retailers and dollar stores to farmers markets and traditional grocery stores, creating a revenue stream for all types of food retailers. CBPP found that SNAP not only increased food spending, it also boosts sales of other necessities like diapers and medication.
While SNAP is a federal program, the rules regulating how SNAP benefits can be used can vary by state. Texas, for example, introduced a bill to ban junk food and sugary drink purchases for SNAP recipients, and New York and Florida have tried to do the same. Program eligibility, outreach activities and policies can all differ among states, too.