Grocery cards added to UC Berkeley Food Assistance Program

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The ASUC Office of Senator Carolyn Le, Basic Needs Center, Financial Aid and Scholarships Office and past ASUC Transfer Advocacy Department announced Monday a new pilot supplemental food assistance card program as an additional component to the current UC Berkeley Food Assistance Program.

According to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff, the program will provide 200 students in “dire or immediate need for food assistance” a $100 gift card to Trader Joe’s, Safeway or the Berkeley Student Food Collective. Le added that the gift cards would give students more flexibility and accessibility compared to the Bear Pantry and UC Berkeley Food Pantry, which provide emergency nonperishable food to UC Berkeley students while they look for other food security options.

“Once students are approved for the Supplemental Food Assistance Program, they can immediately pick up their grocery gift card at the (Cal Student Center Office) and use it as soon as they please,” Le said in an email. “Instead of receiving meal points or money added to their Cal 1 Card, they have more freedom to purchase items at the grocery stores.”

Students apply to the overall Food Assistance Program, where many food assistance services are reviewed for the individual student’s needs. The program works with staff members in the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office and Basic Needs Center to determine eligibility, according to Le. If none of the other services or programs are suitable for the student, they are eligible and approved for the supplemental food assistance card program.

Students must be in the process of applying for CalFresh — a California food program that provides monthly food benefits — or ineligible for the CalFresh benefits to be considered for the card program, according to Ratliff. They also must be a currently enrolled graduate or undergraduate student, as well as a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, AB 540 eligible who have not applied for financial aid or are not eligible to receive financial aid due to regulations.

Le added that the program is being fully funded by a Wellness Fund grant through a proposal approved last year for the purpose of buying the grocery cards.

Because the supplemental food assistance card program is a pilot program, the future of the program remains uncertain. As a new program solely for the duration of the 2019-20 academic year, the 200 cards are split between the fall and spring semesters, according to Le. During the operation of the program, the ASUC will be monitoring the progress and success through feedback surveys and discussions about the Student Basic Needs Referendum.

According to Le, once the 200 gift cards are gone, the ASUC will explore alternative options to ensure the Food Assistance Program can help as many students as possible.

“We will assess the effectiveness at the end of the year. We will determine if the program should continue with funding from the Basic Needs Referendum, or explore other options, such as meal points and/or direct disbursement of funds to students,” Ratliff said.

Contact Maria Young at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the “ASUC Transfer Advocacy Department.” In fact, there is no current ASUC Transfer Advocacy Department.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that students eligible for the program must be either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. In fact, eligible students can be either a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident or an AB 540-eligible student without access to financial aid.

Because of misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article incorrectly named the Cal Student Central Office.