The Senate Committee on Human Services last week unanimously approved one final detail of a bill linking eligibility between the state food program and Medi-Cal. That action came two days after an Assembly floor vote passed the measure.
SB 1002 by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) now just needs to get Senate concurrence to head to the governor’s desk. Concurrence is expected today on the Senate floor.
Utilization numbers for the CalFresh food program are low, with only 43% of eligible Californians receiving benefits. That means more than half of the people who need food assistance in the state aren’t getting it. De León said his bill will help fix that, by making paperwork a little easier.
“CalFresh is one of our state’s best tools for preventing hunger and we must do everything in our power to make sure people don’t lose food assistance because of complicated paperwork,” de León said in a written statement.
The bill would require the agencies administering those programs to apply for federal waivers to more closely align the two eligibility processes.
“SB 1002 is less about coercing the state to take action to request federal flexibility, and more about getting everyone on the same page and demonstrating to federal administrators that the legislature and the administration are standing together,” said Jessica Bartholow, a legislative advocate in the Sacramento office of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a consumer advocacy group and one of the sponsors of the bill, in an email.
The Department of Social Services actually asked for several waivers, she said, including one to help align CalWORKs and CalFresh reports, that the federal agency so far has denied. The bill is designed, in part, to nudge federal regulators to give California the flexibility to continue its “express lane” eligibility project.
“SB 1002 sends a message to the federal administrators that everyone in California, from the state Legislature to the state and county administrators to low-income Californians enrolling in these programs … need federal rules to offer more streamlined access to health care and anti-hunger benefits,” Bartholow said.