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SLO County's CalFresh enrollment rate one of the lowest statewide

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In 2020, San Luis Obispo County had one of the lowest CalFresh participation rates in California, according to data released earlier this month. But community partners like the Department of Social Services and SLO Food Bank are looking to change that.

CalFresh is California's federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. It provides financial assistance for buying food in the form of a debit card for low-income Californians.

FOOD ASSISTANCE CalFresh provides financial assistance for buying food to low-income Californians, but SLO County's enrollment rate is low compared to other counties. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO FOOD BANK
  • Photo Courtesy Of SLO Food Bank
  • FOOD ASSISTANCE CalFresh provides financial assistance for buying food to low-income Californians, but SLO County's enrollment rate is low compared to other counties.

SLO County ranks 57th out of 58 counties for its program reach index, which measures what percentage of those eligible are participating in CalFresh. According to the data, only 47.6 percent of eligible SLO County residents were enrolled in the program in 2020. The only county with a worse enrollment rate was Placer County at 45.7 percent.

This is the lowest that SLO County has ranked in recent years, though the region has consistently placed in the bottom 10: in 2018, SLO County was 54th out of 58 counties, and in 2019 it was 53rd. Meanwhile, neighboring regions like Santa Barbara and Monterey counties ranked much higher, both enrolling about 74 percent of eligible residents in the state program in 2020.

SLO County CalFresh Program Manager Robb Koch told New Times that SLO County's poor enrollment numbers are "certainly not for lack of trying."

"We've been working on this for three years now, and of course during the public health emergency our energies were focused on providing access as best we could in the pandemic environment," Koch said.

Koch said the SLO County Department of Social Services is focusing on improving the CalFresh participation rate by increasing awareness of the program. The county partners with the SLO Foodbank and Cal Poly to offer sign-up assistance.

"Right now is the easiest time to apply for CalFresh," Koch said. "We have a telephonic signature waiver so we can receive applications over the phone," whereas previously a signature was required to apply. Koch said people can call (805) 781-1600 to sign up.

Andrea Keisler, community programs director at the SLO Food Bank, added that since the pandemic started, all individuals enrolled in CalFresh have received the maximum benefit each month of $250, whereas in the past some recipients got as little as $15 a month.

The Food Bank is hosting in-person application assistance on June 3 at four library sites: Morro Bay, Nipomo, SLO, and Atascadero libraries. Δ

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