When you ask medical professionals how to prevent illness and live a healthy life, the first recommendation is often to eat healthy, nutritious food. But what happens when you cannot afford enough food, or when you have to choose between food and medicine or food and rent? When people do not have enough money to cover basic living expenses, they are forced to make hard choices. This is the situation CalFresh is designed to address.
CalFresh is California’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps), and it provides monthly food benefits to low-income individuals and families to increase their food budget so they can put more healthy food on the table. CalFresh is the largest food program in California; it’s state-supervised and county-operated.
The benefits a household receives depend on household size, household income, and monthly expenses, including costs like housing and utilities. A family of four with a gross monthly income of $4,292 (or about $51,500 per year) is eligible and the definition of household does not require people to be related, simply to buy and prepare food together. The average CalFresh household receives more than $300 per month, with a household of four being eligible for as much as $642 per month. You can learn more about eligibility online at mycalfresh.org/the-basics.
The program issues monthly benefits on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, and food may be purchased at any grocery store or farmers’ market that accepts EBT cards, including the Fort Bragg Farmers’ Market. In Fort Bragg, vendors not only accept CalFresh EBT cards to pay for food, the market offers matching funds. CalFresh recipients can trade their CalFresh dollars for Market Bucks and the market matches up to its weekly limit, typically $15, which helps CalFresh dollars go further.
Eating well-balanced meals and maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult under the best of circumstances. It can be particularly difficult when dealing with the chronic stress that comes with poverty. That’s why CalFresh is so important. Good nutrition is essential for good health, both mental and physical.
According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, healthy eating includes skipping sugary drinks and eating nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables; whole grains like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, and brown rice; seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs; fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; beans, peas, unsalted nuts, and seeds. In a grocery store, these are often found around the edges of the store rather than in the central aisles.
Sometimes when money is tight, people opt for low-cost fast food or pre-packaged food, which is the opposite of nutrient-rich food. These foods offer nothing but empty calories; that is, they contain little or no essential vitamins or minerals. In other words, these foods provide nothing of value to your body beyond calories that create excess pounds, and excess pounds can to obesity. Obesity is a risk-factor for more than a dozen chronic illnesses, including diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
So, CalFresh is a way to prevent problems before they start. It expands food budgets so low-income individuals and families can make healthier food choices. It prevents both malnourishment when people cannot afford enough food, as well as obesity caused by cheap, low-quality food full of empty calories.
To apply for CalFresh, make an appointment with our Mendocino Coast Clinics Outreach Department or visit Mendocino County Social Services at 764 S. Franklin Street in Fort Bragg. You can also go online to www.c4yourself.com.