A pandemic-era rule that made it easier to qualify for state’s largest food program will be going away in June
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. –Local college students are encouraged to apply for a food assistance program called CalFresh that can help stretch their grocery budgets and promote healthier eating before a temporary expansion in eligibility comes to an end in June, county officials said this week.
For the past two years, California was able to temporarily expand CalFresh eligibility to college students eligible for work-study and those whose families have a zero-dollar required contribution to their education expenses.
With the federal public health emergency due set to expire on May 11, the two pandemic-era exemptions will no longer be available to college students seeking to enroll in CalFresh, the state’s largest food program that provides monthly benefits to over five million Californians.
“We encourage our college students to apply now, so that they will still benefit from the temporary exemptions before they expire,” said Allison Gonzalez, assistant director of the county’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS). “We can check their eligibility and help them enroll when we are visiting their campus. Students may also call us, visit any of our office locations, or apply online as soon as possible.”
Two in five college students are eligible for the program, according to CalFresh’s student portal. A single student can receive up to $281 in food benefits each month, which is equivalent to 60 jars of peanut butter.
Currently, there are about 7,050 Riverside County college students enrolled in the program.
County officials say that students currently participating in the food program remain eligible under the existing temporary exemptions until their next recertification, which happens on a yearly basis.
After June 10, students who wish to enroll in CalFresh for the first time will need to meet one of the permanent student exemptions to be eligible. Examples of these include students who receive cash aid or CalWORKs, work 20 hours a week, single parents with children under 12, and those who are 17 or younger or 50 and over.
Targeted outreach efforts have helped to boost student enrollment over the past two years since the temporary exemptions took effect. Local campuses have resources dedicated to informing students about this program and other resources to help students get access to healthy, affordable food.
In addition, the DPSS community outreach team has made over 20 visits to local college campuses to help get the word out and help students apply.
On one recent visit to the Mt. San Jacinto College’s main campus, county outreach workers assisted 64-year-old Kim Valentin, who was concerned about the end of the temporary student exemptions.
“If people don’t have a way to get food, they will not do well in school,” she said. And while food pantries were a viable option, Valentin said that CalFresh had given her the freedom needed to tailor her grocery list to meet her specific nutritional needs.
In her view, the application process was easy. The hard part was asking for help. “The good news is there is help, and you’ve got to reach out,” Valentin said.
Riverside County residents can apply for CalFresh online at BeneftsCal.com, by calling 1-877-410-8827 or by visiting the nearest DPSS office.