SSI recipients now eligible for CalFresh food assistance

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Starting next month, thousands of seniors and disabled people in Sonoma County may be eligible to receive CalFresh food assistance for the first time since the federal nutrition program was started 42 years ago.

As many as 3,500 county residents currently receiving Supplemental Security Income could be eligible for CalFresh, the state’s federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. CalFresh benefits can be as high as $192 per person, according to county officials.

“This increases access to nutritious food for a new group of people that didn’t qualify before,” said Felisa Pinson, director of the Sonoma County Human Services Department’s economic assistance division. “It’s giving people the ability to eat and get fresh vegetables.”

Pinson said those receiving Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, were previously not eligible for CalFresh because the state supplemented the SSI payment for that purpose. But that extra payment, about $10, has not changed in years and provided little relief for ever- increasing food costs, she said.

Pinson said the county will conduct outreach among local seniors, as many view CalFresh as a program for younger residents. She said there’s also a stigma attached to the CalFresh program, formerly known as food stamps.

Michael Weston, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, said making CalFresh available to those on SSI has been in the works for several years but was cemented under former Gov. Jerry Brown.

“This is just something a long time coming, and at the end of the Brown administration was able to come full circle into a reality,” he said.

People can apply for CalFresh benefits at any county social services office, Weston said. CalFresh benefits can range anywhere from $15 to $192 a month, depending on the applicant’s income, medical deductions and household size, Pinson said. Housing costs are also taken into account.

Local officials said there are nearly 30,000 low-income residents in Sonoma County who now receive CalFresh benefits, but seniors comprise a relatively small number of them.

SSI beneficiaries can apply in person between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at county economic assistance offices in Santa Rosa, 2550 Paulin Drive, or at human services offices in Petaluma at 5350 Old Redwood Highway North, Ste. 100. Apply online at GetCalFresh.org or by phone at 877-847-3663.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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