LA County battles hunger with Calfresh

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, First District of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

AMONG the many problems made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles County is a familiar one: hunger.

For the county’s Board of Supervisors it’s a top priority.

“No one in Los Angeles County should be experiencing the pangs of hunger,” First District Supervisor Hilda Solis said at a virtual town hall press conference on May 11.

“At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity hit an all-time high in Los Angeles County.”

It “affects young and old alike,” she said, “but it doesn’t stop there,” disregarding “education level, income, race, ethnicity.”

In early May, the Board endorsed Solis’ motion declaring May “CalFresh Awareness Month.”

Together with Antonia Jiménez, director of the county’s Department of Public Social Services, Solis introduced representatives from two community partners, the Los Angeles Food Banks and Chinatown Service Center, to highlight the CalFresh program and encourage people to apply for it.

CalFresh benefits are distributed via a card that can be used to buy food at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, for curb-side pickup or deliveries, and also for packaged meals from restaurants.

CalFresh was recently expanded to include college students eligible for state or federal work study programs, whether or not they’re yet approved. Also this year, the state has increased the benefit by 15%.

“We want to make sure no one in Los Angeles County goes to bed on an empty stomach,” Jiménez said.

Jiménez also said that the federal government plans to boost the state-administered benefit by $95 monthly.

“This is a program that’s here for you when you need it,” Michael Flood, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Food Banks (https://www.lafoodbank.org/find-food/pantry-locator/), said. “We all pay taxes,” he noted, and CalFresh is simply another example, akin to unemployment benefits and more, of programs those taxes are intended to cover.

His organization also has information on how people can access food programs specifically aimed at women, infants and children (the federal WIC program) or seniors and older adults (800-510-2020)

“You’re not alone and we’re here to help you. Sign up for CalFresh today!” said Amy Zhou, of the Chinatown Service Center (https://www.cscla.org/).

Her nonprofit organization works with more than 100,000 low- to moderate-income people every year, she said. If people need help applying for CalFresh, the center can provide it, just as it already does with citizenship applications and, especially since COVID, a growing need for connecting people to Covered California health care, utility and rental payment assistance and more.

Among the avenues to applying for CalFresh are the phone number: (866) 613-3777 and the websites getcalfresh.org, which promises a 10-minute application process, as well as dpss.lacounty.gov.

Flood said there’s been a huge uptick in people seeking food assistance for the first time –“more than 40%,” he said, and encouraged people to apply for CalFresh benefits.

“You might be surprised to find you’re eligible,” he said. n

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