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Governor signs CalFresh referral bill by Berman

New law improves connections between CalFresh applicants and emergency food providers

Assembly Bill 323, authored by Assemblyman Marc Berman, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, July 17, allowing counties to connect CalFresh applicants to emergency food providers through a referral from a 2-1-1 phone service. The new law is Berman’s first bill signed in the state Legislature.

CalFresh assists low-income households in purchasing food at grocery stores. Mr. Berman, D-Palo Alto, said that state residents often won’t apply for CalFresh until they hit their lowest point, but the application can take up to 30 days to be approved.

Counties are required to have a list of food banks or pantries that residents can use to obtain food, he said. However, the list was not the most convenient way to provide options for help.

“What my bill does is say that, instead of having a physical list, counties can refer that person to this phone number — 2-1-1 — which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in 150 different languages to direct them to the quickest and nearest food pantry so that they can get food support while they’re waiting for their application to get approved,” he said.

Mr. Berman said the problem of food security is on the rise, especially in the Bay Area as the cost of living continues to increase.

“It’s that much more important that we get people connected with the services that exist as quickly as possible and as easy as possible as people find themselves unexpectedly starving,” he said.

As of 2016, about 1 in 5 children in California go hungry, according to the Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP), which helped Berman develop the bill.

Many emergency food providers, such as Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto, operate on a referral basis. Program Supervisor LaKesha Evans said that any communication about food banks would be positive.

“We always encourage the sharing of information and the sharing of resources. It would be fantastic if counties could take the time to inform applicants,” she said.