“No Big Deal? YES! We’ve Got a Paper ESAP in CA!”

Published on Nov 6, 2023

After years of dedicated advocacy, we are thrilled to announce the long-awaited release of a CalFresh simplified paper application for households solely composed of older adults and people with disabilities and no earned income (also known as ESAP Households). It has taken us over five years to reach this point, where we can proudly say California is one significant step closer to improving access to the nation's most effective anti-poverty program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or CalFresh as it is known throughout the golden state.

Our journey began in 2017 when our colleague, Jared Call, led our organization's efforts to raise awareness about administrative burdens driving low CalFresh participation rates of eligible older adults. These efforts set the stage to address a major obstacle preventing older adults from accessing CalFresh: a complicated and burdensome application process. We owe tremendous gratitude to our community partners who actively participated in the working groups that shaped the creation of the application; your lived expertise was invaluable.

We also thank Senator Wiener for his leadership in championing SB 882, the legislation necessary to get the application made. Special thanks to our co-sponsors, the SF-Marin Food Bank, AARP-CA, and the California Association of Food Banks. Your support and collaboration have been instrumental in reaching this milestone, and we look forward to working with you all on the next leg of the journey to remove barriers to CalFresh and other vital resources.

What even is an ESAP? : A look back

The Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP) is designed to simplify the application and recertification processes by making three significant changes to the requirements for households with only elderly (age 60 or older) and/or disabled household members with no earned income:

  • Waiving the recertification interview requirement
  • Making use of data matching to reduce clients’ verification burden
  • Extending the certification period to 36 months

These changes can help increase older adult participation, improve the customer service experience, and enhance administrative efficiency.

In 2017, the USDA approved the waiver requests submitted by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to streamline enrollment and increase benefits for ESAP households with seniors and/or disabled members. ESAP was implemented beginning October 1, 2017. 

In 2020, the passing of an amended SB 882 required the State to provide counties with simplified CalFresh applications for ESAP Households. 


In California, as of 2018, just 32% of eligible older adults participate in CalFresh. Over two-thirds of eligible older adults are still not receiving the vital food benefits to which they are entitled. For many years, CalFresh participation among this population has been low due to misinformation and stigma, limited access to transportation and technology, and a lengthy and convoluted application process. 

ESAP maximizes the use of existing data sources to streamline the CalFresh application process, ensuring that the enrollment experience is more equitable and inclusive for ESAP households. Instead of risking a loss in their CalFresh eligibility every 12 months from issues with paperwork, ESAP households only have to complete a short form every three years to continue receiving benefits. The new addition of the simplified paper application uses larger text and more plain language. It condenses the CalFresh application to include only the most applicable and necessary information for ESAP households. 

What's next?

Looking ahead, our journey to improve access to CalFresh for older adults continues. Our next step is to work towards automating the ESAP application, making it accessible online. In addition, we aim to address a component that didn't quite succeed in 2020 – ensuring that all applicants and participants can complete the application and recertification interview processes by phone, including obtaining the required client signature. As we move forward, our commitment remains unwavering. Our organizational commitment extends beyond just simplifying the process; it's about promoting equitable access for older adults in all 58 counties of California. 

Questions? Email Kameron Mims-Jones kameron@nourishca.org

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