State Acts to Improve CalFresh Access for Older Adults

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Published on Oct 19, 2020 in CalFresh, Older Adults, State Administration

Last week, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) CalFresh Branch submitted a formal request to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to waive the annual periodic report for CalFresh households enrolled under the state’s Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP). This important policy change will reduce administrative barriers and improve access for over 500,000 households statewide.

CFPA and our partners, including the California Association of Food Banks, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, AARP-CA, Justice in Aging, and the CA Association of Area Agencies on Aging had called on CDSS to request the waiver of the periodic report, and applaud the Department for taking this step. We urge federal administrators at FNS to approve the state’s request no later than November 13, 2020 to ensure that the required policy automation can be completed on schedule.

Background

Hunger and poverty are persistent problems in California that are being exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health emergency. Before the crisis began there were more than 4.1 million low-income households affected by food insecurity, and the number of older Californians experiencing hunger continues to grow at an alarming rate. Based on data from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, nearly forty percent of low-income Californians over the age of sixty are food insecure — a 21 percent increase over the last 15 years. Food insecurity has significant negative impacts on older adults—particularly on their health. Older adults who are food-insecure are more likely to die of a heart attack, have depression, and face limitations in activities of daily living. Food insecurity therefore places an already vulnerable population at increased risk for more serious health and economic hardships from COVID-19.

As a proven positive public health intervention and powerful economic stabilizer, CalFresh has a critical dual role to play in California’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Yet, California ranks last in the nation in enrolling eligible older adults in CalFresh.

In recent years, the state has made progress in its efforts to increase CalFresh enrollment among older adults, but has yet to implement certain promising policy options. Since October 1, 2017 California has participated in the federally-authorized Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP)Elderly Simplified Application Project demonstration project. The intent of the demonstration project is to simplify the application and reporting requirements for households composed solely of Elderly and/or Disabled members with no earned income. More than 500,000 California households have benefitted from ESAP certification. However, CDSS did not elect at the time to request a waiver of the interim annual report (known in CalFresh terminology as a SAR-7) for ESAP households assigned a 36-month certification period. The state’s recently submitted waiver request seeks to do so.

On August 3, 2020, in response to the continuing pandemic emergency, FNS issued guidance to states entitled Workload Management Best Practices for States. In that guidance, FNS highlighted the ESAP demonstration project, including waiver of the periodic reporting requirement, as an option routinely available to states to address workload. While California has already implemented some ESAP procedures, a waiver of the periodic reporting requirement for ESAP eligible households would not only help California address workload, but would also improve benefit access and retention for older adults and people with disabilities. An early extension of California’s current ESAP demonstration project is vital in order to fully realize the benefits of the demonstration project as highlighted by FNS.

At a time when CalFresh application volume remains elevated, causing significant strains on the eligibility workforce, supporting the County Welfare Department’s operational efficiency is paramount. Removing unnecessary and burdensome administrative tasks like the periodic report for ESAP households is a smart and cost-effective way to “do more with less” while simultaneously improving client customer service and outcomes.

What’s Next

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to make clear, meeting the nutritional needs of low-income households is an urgent and ongoing need. We applaud CDSS for taking this proactive step to improve access to CalFresh, and urge FNS to approve of the waiver request as soon as possible. CFPA and our partners will look forward to working with CDSS and other stakeholders to ensure timely implementation of this policy change.

Questions?

Contact Jared Call at 323.401.4972

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