Senator Melissa Hurtado reintroduces Senate Bill 464, which will allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for food assistance programs
TULARE COUNTY – The Food for All Act was included in the state’s budget last year, making California the first state in the nation to extend food assistance to undocumented seniors. However, the program is seeing delays as state funding lingers.
Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Bakersfield) reintroduced the Food for All Act, which allows a non-citizen immigrant to be eligible for the California Department of Social Services-administered California Food Assistance Program (CalFresh). Upon implementation, undocumented seniors 55 years old and above can receive CalFresh benefits. The new policy was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, after having been first introduced in March 2021. However, after cuts from the state’s budget this January, the program was forced to be postponed to a later year when there are more funds, which led Hurtado to reintroduce the bill.
“Hunger knows no border, no race and no nationality,” Hurtado said. “I am proud that last year we were able to combat this insecurity by expanding access to food assistance to older Californians, regardless of their immigration status. But the fight isn’t over, we must continue until all Californians have equal access to food assistance.”
Though Hurtado secured $40 million in last year’s budget for the bill, Newsom made budget cuts that pushed it into later years where more funding would be available. The bill would expand eligibility for state funded nutrition benefits to seniors ineligible for CalFresh due to their immigration status. Currently, undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, holders of Temporary Protected Status and certain Visa holders are excluded from federal CalFresh and the state-funded food assistance program. Nourish California, a nonprofit food advocacy group, reported that this bill comes at a time when 42% of undocumented seniors are affected by food insecurity.
“The pandemic and rising cost of food have worsened hardships across California, particularly among underpaid workers without current immigration status,” Benyamin Chao, Health Benefits Policy Manager at the California Immigrant Policy Center said in a statement. “No one should be prevented from being able to afford basic needs like food due to the place of their birth.”
This bill, which was held in Assembly Appropriations, would have expanded eligibility for state funded nutrition benefits for anyone ineligible for CalFresh due solely to their immigration status. The 2021-2022 budget included implementation funding for a targeted age based expansion of the benefit.
“No one should go hungry, no matter their immigration status, especially as the price for staple items, such as milk and eggs, continue to rise. Immigrant communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are now faced with rising food costs.” Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement.
According to Nourish California, the most affected age range for undocumented persons in the state are from 0-17 years old. They reported that over half a million children and adults are currently living in households lacking in food security. Nearly 54% of these individuals avoided public assistance programs in fear it would affect their immigration status.
“Immigrants across California continue to experience deep hardship due to the pandemic and now the rising cost of food due to inflation, yet remain unjustly excluded from critical food assistance programs like CalFresh. When every Californian, no matter their age or immigration status, has access to the food they need, our communities and economies thrive,” Betzabel Estudillo, Director of Engagement, Nourish California said.