UC Berkeley plans to boost efforts this semester to help an estimated 10,000 food-insecure students enroll in CalFresh, a federally funded nutrition program that helps low-income individuals.
Beginning in October, the campus will host monthly “super clinics,” in which four to five employees will each assist about 13 students in applying to CalFresh. The campus has partnered with Alameda County Community Food Bank and CalFresh to better staff these clinics.
CalFresh is California’s food stamps program, which is nationally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Individuals who apply to and qualify for CalFresh will receive a debit card that is replenished every month.
According to the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Security Committee chair Ruben Canedo, the average eligible student receives $193 a month to supplement their budget toward their food needs. Canedo added that if students have dependents, the amount will be adjusted.
California has the largest number of people eligible for the program but ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of actual enrollment, according to Canedo.
“We want as many students as possible to apply for CalFresh,” Canedo said. “We don’t want any student self-selecting out.”
A campus study found that approximately 9,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students potentially qualify as food-insecure, according to Liz Gomez, an employee of Alameda County Community Food Bank. Gomez works with the campus to increase the number of students applying to CalFresh.
After viewing the study results, the Alameda County Community Food Bank learned that food insecurity on campus is far greater than expected, prompting it to become involved with campus students, Gomez said.
Canedo said CalFresh ensures that students do not have to take out loans to pay for food, adding that the program does not impact students’ financial aid.
Canedo urges students to go to the campus basic needs website, check whether they qualify and prepare themselves before attending the clinic. Once students are at the clinic, a worker will help prepare the application with them and submit it via the Code for America software, GetCalFresh.
GetCalFresh Senior Manager of Public Partnerships Caitlin Docker said the program aims to reduce stigma around food stamps and simplify the application process. According to Docker, the application is also offered in Spanish, and the questions are written in layman’s terms.
“Not every student is aware that they can receive federal aid,” Docker said. “I would encourage students to check their eligibility.”
Canedo said it is particularly difficult for college students to support themselves, because the cost of living is high and students are not educated regarding financial aid options.
“Everyone struggles at some point; emergencies are going to happen,” Canedo said. “College is more than taking exams. People are people before they are students.”