Undocumented immigrants ages 55 and up may soon qualify for public food assistance

·2 min read
Jason Pierce/The Sacramento Bee

Food assistance soon may be available to undocumented immigrants ages 55 and older as Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes to expand public food programs.

The idea is part of his 2022-23 budget plan, where a little over $35 million of the total $286 billion budget would be put toward the expansion of CalFresh and other food programs. This expansion would make it so that all low-income people 55 and older can be eligible for food assistance regardless of immigration status.

As of now, CalFresh is available to only a small portion of undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants who currently qualify for the program include those who’ve lived in the country under a qualified status for five years, are receiving disability assistance or benefits, and children under 18 who are lawfully admitted for permanent residence under the Immigration and Nationalization Act, according to the state Department of Social Services.

An estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants call California home, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California reports. The move is a major step toward addressing food insecurity among low-income communities, advocates and state officials agreed in a videoconference announcing the bill Jan. 13.

Even amid the pandemic, many field workers continued to work, putting us food on tables, said Clarissa Vivian Petrucci, special projects coordinator at the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative. But even when field workers work hard, they often face food insecurity, she said.

“We believe it is necessary to advocate for those who are afraid to raise their voices,” she said. “We believe that access to food is of paramount (importance), regardless of immigration status.”

There’s a need more than ever as over 350,000 undocumented immigrants lost their jobs in the spring of 2020, a report by the University of California Merced found. Researchers further determined that noncitizen immigrant women experienced the highest job loss rate in the state, at 36.3%.

In Stanislaus County, 11.8% of the population, or 64,300 people, were food insecure in 2019, the most recent data available, according to Feeding America.

In an email to The Bee, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, whose 21st district includes some of Stanislaus County, applauded the Food For All Act, or SB 464, proposed by State Sen. Melissa Hurtado. Expanding eligibility for state food assistance programs is crucial to raising the overall health and quality of life for Valley residents.

“We have an opportunity now to make food insecurity in California a thing of the past,” he said.

Andrea Briseño is the equity reporter for The Bee's community-funded Economic Mobility Lab, which features a team of reporters covering economic development, education and equity.

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