CalFresh cards to be made more accessible to people with disabilities

Deborah Chen/File

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Starting Saturday, electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards will be made available to campus students and community members with disabilities who had previously been ineligible for them.

EBT cards, which help low-income state residents in the CalFresh program buy food, have historically not been available to Californians who receive cash assistance through Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment, or SSI/SSP, a federally funded program that assists low-income individuals who are blind, disabled or at least 65 years old. The policy change will take effect as part of California AB 1811, a bill that was passed by the Legislature and approved by then-governor Jerry Brown in 2018.

According to campus alumnus and chair of the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Security Committee Ruben Canedo, it is especially important that people with disabilities who qualify for CalFresh also have access to the CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program, which allows community members to use their EBT cards to buy lower-cost meals at participating restaurants.

“You want to be mindful of the experience that that community’s undergoing,” Canedo said. “The likelihood of them being able to go buy groceries, cook for themselves, meal-prep and all that kind of stuff — it’s a very different context for somebody that is living with a differently abled body than somebody that is not.”

There are more than 48,000 SSI/SSP recipients in Alameda County and 55,784 families and individuals in the county who currently use the CalFresh program, according to a press release from the Alameda County Social Services Agency. The agency said in the press release that it has notified local SSI/SSP recipients of the rule change to CalFresh.

2019-20 ASUC External Affairs Vice President Varsha Sarveshwar said she is hopeful that the change to CalFresh eligibility rules will benefit the local community and added that the change aligns with the goals of her office.

“Basic needs security is one of our top priorities, so it’s great to see policy being amended to expand access to CalFRESH,” Sarveshwar said in an email.

Canedo said the Assembly bill will provide the community with additional accessibility to resources and compared it to AB 1930, which clarified CalFresh rules that allow many college students to be eligible for these benefits. AB 1930 was approved by Brown in 2014 and listed then-assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, as its lead author.

Canedo added that he learned from AB 1930 that programs such as CalFresh can only be accessible if people know they are eligible and if government employees are properly trained to process applications.

“The education and the legislation/bill work is a substantial area of the work, and also equally substantial, if not more, is the implementation of legislation that passes,” Canedo said.

Contact Nick Furgatch at [email protected].