Improving Access to Food Assistance at Birth
CalFresh is a crucial resource for many families that helps to feed their children and reduce poverty. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 49 percent of California children receive CalFresh at some point in their first five years of life.
Yet despite its importance in safeguarding families’ health and well-being, more than one in three families with children struggle to enroll their newborn child in the program by three months’ age. This results in hundreds of dollars in vital food assistance potentially missed out on annually by families who qualify for increased benefits.
Learn more by reading our newest policy brief, Bridging Gaps in CalFresh Enrollment Among Newborn Infants.
CalFresh benefits are meant for the whole household. Babies could be either partially or fully relying on formula, which is expensive. CalFresh can be used to purchase formula, as well as to purchase additional food for breastfeeding parents with increased nutritional needs. Parents who are recovering from birth need consistent access to nutritious food to recover. Considering how critical nutrition is for mothers and infants during this stage of life, as well as how much new parents are dealing with in those first three months, county and state administrators must take the necessary steps to ensure that families have the resources to the food they need to thrive.
What the policies and stakeholders say
1. Families are being asked for more information than necessary.
For families who want to add their newborn infant onto their existing CalFresh case, only the baby’s name and date of birth should be required. However, sometimes families are mistakenly asked by County CalFresh Eligibility Workers to verify unnecessary information, such as a Social Security Number (SSN) and proof that the baby has been born. Families should only need to provide the federally mandated documentation to enroll newborns into CalFresh.
2. Newborn enrollment outcomes differ from county to county.
In some counties, there is often a significant gap between when a baby is born and when eligibility workers learn of the birth. Even if families report an expected birth, they must reach out again once the baby is born to get the newborn enrolled. In some instances, it’s not enough for families to report the birth – they are asked and expected to proactively request CalFresh benefits for their newborn baby.
3. Though newborn enrollment is straightforward and expedited for Medi-Cal, the enrollment procedures are not aligned with CalFresh.
For newborn enrollment into Medi-Cal, eligibility workers actively collect information from families, hospital workers enroll babies at the hospital, and the process is simplified if the baby’s parents are already enrolled in Medi-Cal. These processes don’t happen in CalFresh cases, even if the family is receiving Medi-Cal.
The onus should not be on the family to juggle through the paperwork and navigate a complex process to get food benefits to which they are entitled. CalFresh administrators should institute policies and procedures to proactively reach out to families to enroll newborns in CalFresh.
Quote: “I’ve heard more than once that families have been told [by the eligibility worker] the baby needs to be ‘eating’ or walking in order to receive CalFresh.”
Policies and procedures should standardize the required verification to enroll newborns into CalFresh at birth, which is solely the baby’s name and their date of birth. There should be a process to ensure that the report of a newborn to a household’s Medi-Cal case gets applied to CalFresh as well, especially since county workers are now required to dually enroll individuals into CalFresh if they qualify for and are receiving Medi-Cal. Eligibility workers, administrators, and advocates must all work proactively to ensure timely receipt of additional CalFresh benefits for families without unnecessary and harmful delays.
Want to learn more and receive timely calls to action to improve CalFresh? Join our campaign to eliminate barriers and boost benefits in CalFresh. Sign up here.