You Can’t Beat the Heat Without Safe Drinking Water

Published on Aug 21, 2023 in CalFresh

Parched mouths and sweating foreheads are a common sight in California this summer. While many of us are able to run to our taps for a glass of refreshing water, over one million Californians go thirsty because they lack access to safe drinking water. These drinking water problems disproportionately affect Latino, rural, and lower-income communities – especially in the Central Valley, which was hit by multiple heatwaves with temperatures approaching 110 degrees last month.

Many communities who lack access to safe drinking water live in areas with more concrete and less green space, where they are subject to the “urban heat island effect”. This effect occurs when dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other man-made surfaces absorb and retain heat. Climate Central reports that around 41 million people live in areas where temperatures are at least 8 degrees warmer than their more shaded surroundings. NPR found that extreme heat in the city disproportionately impacts people with low income and people of color. Los Angeles and Oakland display a strong correlation between heat and income, as seen in the interactive map from NPR.

CalFresh provides critical basic nutrition support for millions of Californians with low income, but it assumes that households have safe and reliable tap water. Families with low income are forced to use their limited grocery budget to buy both water and food, which puts them at higher risk for food insecurity. Recent research showed that adults who avoided tap water were 21 percent more likely to also be food insecure.

To address the need for safe and reliable tap water, the state has authorized the CalFresh Safe Drinking Water pilot, which helps cover the extra cost of buying bottled water that these families face. This pilot launched in March 2022 and provides $50 per month in supplemental CalFresh benefits to about4,000 households in select Kern County zip codes where residents lack access to safe drinking water.

“Getting $50 additional for water would absolutely be helpful.  It would absolutely be another dinner and, like, it would absolutely bring more food into the house.”

- Participant from English language focus group on the CalFresh Safe Drinking Water pilot

The initial pilot was set to expire in October 2023, but thanks to the Governor and Legislature, next year’s state budget includes funding to extend the pilot through June 2025. This extension will thankfully prevent participating households from seeing another harmful cut to their limited food and water budgets. But while California needs to fix the broken water infrastructure that has allowed so many people to go without safe drinking water, many more impoverished families cannot afford to wait for long-term solutions. California must continue to invest in the CalFresh Safe Drinking Water pilot and expand the pilot to include more counties and families that are struggling to afford food and don’t have access to safe drinking water.

Have questions? Contact Jared Call at