Why some food-insecure disabled students can’t use CalFresh food stamps

Ana Isabel Diaz/Staff

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Although more UC Berkeley students are using food stamps than ever before, policy restrictions surrounding CalFresh subsidies have limited the aid for some students with disabilities.

For campus senior Sarah Funes, difficulties with food access have only added to the burden of living as a disabled student at UC Berkeley. Funes said she has a brain tumor that has made working difficult, but she has been supplementing her income with campus work-study jobs. Funes receives supplemental security income, or SSI, but said it is “impossible” to live on.

SSI is a federally funded program that provides income support for individuals who are disabled, blind or at least 65 years of age. Elizabeth Gomez, associate director of client services at the Alameda County Community Food Bank, said anyone who receives SSI is not eligible for benefits such as CalFresh that are provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

This is because the state’s SSI payment already includes an allotment for food, according to Gomez, which includes the value of the CalFresh allowance. Funes said getting adequate food with the SSI allocation is not plausible. Last summer, SSI was Funes’ main source of income.

“(During the summer) I was living off of $895 per month for three months,” Funes said. “My rent (was) $600 and my utilities were $20, and I was supposed to be able to live off the rest.”

During this time, Funes went to the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, an emergency relief food supply located in the basement of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. The pantry is open to all UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students, but Funes said the pantry is difficult for her to access because of distance and limited accommodations for disabled students.

Although the pantry is usually staffed by students, it utilizes parent volunteers during finals and dead week. Parent volunteers May Chen and Julie Chiu said they hadn’t received any special training for assisting disabled students.

“The building is wheelchair accessible,” Chen said regarding the pantry’s accommodations for disabled students. “(But) in terms of (food) prepping, we weren’t trained for that.”

Funes said she hopes the food bank on campus will find a way to accommodate disabled students. She said she has reached out to the student affairs office, which said she was already utilizing all the available resources.

Despite this, Funes said she needed loans to live in International House, a campus housing residence, and expressed concerns about paying for both her housing and food.

Proposed changes to Medicaid and Social Security, coupled with Funes’s disability, have made her future plans of going to graduate school uncertain, but Funes said she hopes awareness of the food insecurity issue will spread.

“I’m always working. I’ve never just been able to be a student at (UC Berkeley),” Funes said. “I hope that people start realizing that the people who are disabled on this campus don’t have a lot of resources.”

Contact Elena Aguirre at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @eaguirreDC.

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  • rychastings

    bah everyone wants accomodations these days. these people want free taxpayer dollars for everyone* (who isnt a white male)

  • Grady

    Just what is a ‘food insecure disabled person’? I’m really baffled by that one.

    • C Bierbauer78

      Empathy impaired. Sucks to b u!

      • lspanker

        Care to offer some working definition of “food insecurity”, or will this merely be one of your usual trollish one-off remarks?

      • I love Trump!!!

        Wow, that puts me into a special protected class now doesn’t it? You have to treat me nice now that I am ’empathy impaired’!!

    • Bbstackr

      They are like leprechauns. No one has seen one but SO MANY still believe.

  • ErikKengaard

    For one hundred years [1868- 1967], California taxpayers funded the tuition free, world class University of California, Berkeley, for their children. How was that possible?

    Today, Californians and others can’t afford to send their children to University. What happened?
    The essential bases for the lack of current funding are: the electorate became fragmented [e pluribus multum and a resultant diminution of “sense of collective responsibility”], California became overpopulated, the additional population did not reflect the economic substance and integrity of the population of the first hundred years, immigration driven excess population placed enormous pressure on resources, and drove up the cost of land and derivative costs way beyond inflation, and because millions of the newcomers were poor, their taxes didn’t begin to cover the costs of K12, welfare, etc for their families, and many of their children ended up in prison.
    As a consequence [somewhat simplified] State funds previously used to support the University were diverted to increased funding of K12, to prisons, and to welfare.

    Given the irreversible nature of much of what has happened, the disinterest of the California elite and the apathy of the general populace in supporting an analysis of what happened, to better enable a solution, the future for California middle class students and their parents will be even more financially challenging than it is now.

    • lspanker

      Good general analysis, but don’t forget two other factors that resulted in an increase in college enrollment since 1960:

      (a) The increase of enrollment in the late 1960’s by young males seeking college deferment from the draft.
      (b) The push to enroll individuals under Affirmative Action/Diversity that resulted in admissions for individuals who lacked the demonstrable intellectual ability and/or academic preparation to make it in on their GPAs and test scores.

      • ErikKengaard

        I’ve searched for years for a credible analysis of UC funding bud haven’t come close to finding one. Indeed, the only attempt of which I’m aware is

        Presented to the faculty of the Department of Public Policy and Administration, California State University, Sacramento
        by Christina Marie Kersey, 2012

        If you know of any better than average studies, or even average studies, please let me know.

      • Che

        Affirmative Action began in the 70s. And don’t forget white people have benefitted from affirmative action since the day they started stealing Native American land.

  • ErikKengaard

    Until California became overpopulated (about 1960), tuition at UCB was zero, food, shelter, textbooks and dates could be covered by part time work, and a working class student could graduate with no debt.
    Then, along came LBJ, Ted, Emanuel Celler and more of the left . . .

  • lspanker

    Define “food insecure” – it’s a BS concocted term because you can’t make the cause that any Cal student is really starved or malnourished…

  • Bbstackr

    SSI from the federal government is only $735. Funes gets an additional $160 from California’s State Supplemental Payment INSTEAD of SNAP benefits, just like the other million people in California getting both SSI and SSP. While an individual’s maximum SNAP benefit is $192, individuals with income receive less. Even with her high rent, Funes would be have an “Expected Family Contribution” of about $98 that she could pay on her own out of $735 in SSI. She would only be getting about $94 in SNAP instead of $160 in additional tax-free CASH.