Gavin Newsom to Signal Whether to Stop Excluding Immigrants From Food Assistance in Budget Revise
San Diego– May 11, 2021 — This week, immigrant rights and food access advocates and policy experts are calling on Governor Newsom to include #Food4All in his revised 2021-2022 Budget proposal, which would modernize the California Food Assistance Program to include all Californians, regardless of their immigration status.
A third of California’s population is made up of immigrants, more than any other state in the country. While the majority of foreign-born Californians is eligible to receive CalFresh food assistance if the need arises, current laws explicitly exclude undocumented immigrants, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and others from federal SNAP/CalFresh and the state-funded California Food Assistance Program (CFAP). This is despite the fact that most undocumented Californians pay taxes that support our social safety net, contributing over $3 billion in state and local taxes each year, in addition to $263 billion to Gross State Product and $482 billion in economic output.
“In recent history, California has advanced policies to end the unjust exclusion of immigrants,” says Nourish California Senior Policy Advocate Jared Call. “Until all California residents can access food assistance if and when they need it, our institutions will not fully reflect the state’s values of equity and inclusion.”
Roughly one in six of children in California lives with at least one undocumented parent and because many immigrants (especially if undocumented) hold underpaid jobs, children with working immigrant parents are twice as likely to live in poverty than children with non-immigrant parents. “I live in one of the largest agricultural districts and healthy food providers in the country, and yet have no access to healthy food for myself,” says Janessa Contreras, a high school senior in Calexico. “Ironically, we live in a food desert. My school has no healthy or appetizing food options, and we often have to drive across the border for affordable nourishment. CalFresh provides food for college students, but leaves out undocumented immigrants and international students. It’s not equitable.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, immigrants made up 36 percent of California’s essential workforce, including 1.2 million undocumented workers who risked exposure to the illness for low pay. Out of the 29.5 percent of immigrants who lost their jobs in California in 2020, close to half lack access to public benefits like food assistance to keep their families alive and healthy.
“I used to be excluded from CalFresh myself even though my spouse, a citizen, received CalFresh,” says Benyamin Chao, who is a Policy Coordinator with California Immigrant Policy Center. “At the time, I was struggling to make ends meet after graduating from college because I was undocumented and lacked employment authorization. Even though my spouse’s individual benefits had to be split between the two of us, it made an impact on my ability to invest in myself and obtain gainful employment down the line.”
“These are people who quite literally work to put food on other California households’ tables but are denied that opportunity for their own families. #Food4All is a call for parity, not charity,” says Sarah Dar, Director of Health & Public Benefits Policy with the California Immigrant Policy Center. “Given the state’s $75 billion surplus, Governor Newsom now has an opportunity to live up to his administration’s mantra of a ‘California for All’ by ending discriminatory exclusions to CFAP and ensuring nutrition access for everyone who calls California home.”