California is moving toward food assistance for all populations—including undocumented immigrants


by Tina Vasquez, The Counter  



Lawmakers and advocates are urging Gavin Newsom to remove immigration and age restrictions from the state’s food assistance program.


Undocumented immigrants experience food insecurity at much higher rates than other populations, yet they are largely unable to access government food assistance programs. This may soon change in California.


Advocates and lawmakers are taking a two-pronged approach, pushing the state to make a long-term investment in food access for undocumented communities. Senate Bill 464, introduced last year by state Senator Melissa Hurtado, would expand eligibility for state-funded nutrition benefits regardless of immigration status. The Food4All campaign, created by the food policy advocacy organization Nourish California and the immigrant rights group California Immigrant Policy Center, has spent more than two years putting pressure on Governor Gavin Newsom to remove the immigration status roadblocks from California’s nutrition safety net.


Forty-five percent of undocumented immigrants in California are affected by food insecurity, but have few options for assistance—and many are wary of government programs because of fear of repercussions and confusion caused by complex state and federal laws. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—known in California as CalFresh—is open to low-income American citizens and households in which at least one member has had a “qualified” immigration status for at least five years. The state-funded California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) was created to cover qualified immigrants—including Lawful Permanent Residents, refugees, and asylees—who have not lived in the United States for at least five years.


Both programs exclude undocumented immigrants.


In January, Newsom included funding in his 2022-2023 proposed budget to remove immigration exclusions from CFAP—but only for undocumented Californians aged 55 and older. Those behind the Food4All campaign say this doesn’t go far enough in a state that has the highest poverty rate in the nation while at the same time being the top food supplier in the U.S. and having one of the most powerful economies in the world.


“One of our biggest challenges is ensuring that nutrition safety net programs are equitable for all people,” said Betzabel Estudillo, senior advocate at Nourish California. “We need to stop and consider why undocumented immigrants and other immigrant populations have been explicitly excluded from CalFresh and the California Food Assistance Program, and we need to address and remove racist and xenophobic laws.”


California is often portrayed as one of the most immigrant-friendly states in the nation. While the state has a history of creating more inclusive policies for immigrant populations than at the federal level, it’s also true that undocumented immigrants are largely blocked from state programs that would enable them to access basic necessities. Understanding why—and why many immigrant communities remain afraid of accessing benefits—requires a bit of a history lesson.


‘Immigrants don’t belong here’ ... 


‘Everyone should have access to food’ ...


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