Press Release: Lost Dollars, Empty Plates 2024

Published on Apr 16, 2024 in CalFresh


Contact: Courtney Shojinaga - 213.204.3614 - 

California’s Failure to Optimize CalFresh is a Missed Economic Opportunity

Oakland – California has the highest rate of poverty in the nation, yet consistently has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as CalFresh. An estimated 2.7 million eligible Californians are not receiving their benefits. Beyond the direct impact on food insecure households, Nourish California's new report Lost Dollars, Empty Plates reveals the rippling effect this failure has on our state’s economy.

SNAP/CalFresh is one of the most powerful safety net programs in our nation, yet enrollment rates remain low because clients must navigate an overly complicated and burdensome application process. Certain populations encounter challenging barriers. For example, college students often face additional requirements that make it unachievable to meet while juggling a full course load. Even if individuals are able to apply for CalFresh, a quarter of survey respondents experienced unfair treatment when applying for CalFresh. This results in eligible Californians being less likely to apply for or use CalFresh, or even finish an application.

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CalFresh is fully funded by the federal government and that funding pot grows and shrinks with the number of people receiving these benefits. More eligible individuals that receive CalFresh means more federal dollars that are available for the state. Research by the USDA shows that every dollar in federal SNAP/CalFresh expenditures generates $1.54 in economic activity. Once spent, these dollars activate the local economy and support the farmers, retailers, and other workers in our food system. By missing eligible individuals, California is actively harming the well-being of our communities both in their kitchens and their jobs.

It is vital that we reach the millions of households affected by food insecurity in our state. If CalFresh reached all eligible individuals, California would receive $3.5 billion in additional CalFresh dollars from the federal government each year. As a result, benefits would improve food security and strengthen state, local, and household economies. California must set bold, but achievable goals to increase CalFresh participation, ensuring improved access and customer service throughout the enrollment process.

The complete "Lost Dollars, Empty Plates" report can be found on Nourish California’s website.

Jared Call, Director of Policy at Nourish California:

“We urge the state to immediately prioritize improving CalFresh participation to help the millions of families who need help putting food on the table. One in five Californian’s struggle with food insecurity, yet the state is missing out on billions of dollars in federally-funded food assistance each year. As the Governor and Legislature look for solutions to solve the budget shortfall, they should do everything to maximize federal resources — including CalFresh — which is proven to reduce hunger, improve health, and boost the state’s economy.”

Meg Davidson, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank:

“At the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank we are often the last line of defense for more than 50,000 households struggling with food insecurity. And while we know we play an important role in addressing hunger, food banks alone can’t solve the hunger crisis. CalFresh is in fact one of the most effective anti-hunger and anti-poverty tools we have. It ensures that our low-income neighbors have money to buy the groceries they need and prefer. Which is why we are troubled by the number of eligible Californians who aren’t accessing this vital resource and are committed to advocating for solutions that reduce barriers to access and increase benefit levels for all Californians.”


Nourish California works to make our state an equitable place for all who call it home. Since 1992, they’ve fought hunger through policy change and research. They work with communities to guarantee that children, older adults, immigrants, and all Californians with low income can access the food they need and want.


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