Fort Bragg, CA – As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, more people on the coast are struggling to meet their basic needs. In response, Mendocino Coast Clinics (MCC) is partnering with local government and other organizations to provide essential health services to as many people as possible, including registering people for CalFresh.
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 referred to as 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 is federally funded, state-supervised and county-operated.
To provide these benefits to as many coastal residents as possible, MCC offers the free service of helping people apply for benefits. During this pandemic, the MCC Outreach Department is mostly talking with people over the phone to walk them through the process of completing the required forms. Then, the only activity that must occur in person is signing the form and making some copies, which is quick and easy, according to MCC Executive Director Lucresha Renteria.
The CalFresh 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. Details about eligibility are available 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 members of the Mendocino County Farmers Market Association, knows as “McFarm” (mcfarm.org). Here on the coast, the Fort Bragg Farmers Market is open year-round with winter hours on Wednesdays from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, rain or shine. All McFarm markets not only accept CalFresh EBT cards to pay for food, they also offer matching funds. CalFresh recipients and those with pandemic relief EBT cards can trade their CalFresh dollars for Market Bucks and the market matches up to about $20, which helps CalFresh dollars go further. The matched dollars must be used on fruits or vegetables, while the rest of the Market Bucks can be used for CalFresh-approved food purchases. The Market Bucks do not expire; however, they must be used at the market where they were purchased. The matching program is funded by the USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program and administered locally by North Coast Opportunities.
Farmers Market Director Julie Apostolu said, “CalFresh recipients simply need to come to the farmers market manager’s table where they can use their EBT card to purchase Market Bucks tokens. Thanks to the FINI grant, CalFresh recipients receive fresh produce and other healthy food from the farmers market and all vendors are reimbursed for the full value of their product.”
Renteria said, “Sometimes when money is tight, people choose low-cost fast food or pre-packaged food, which doesn’t have the nutrients to keep people healthy. Fast food is full of high fat, salt, and calories that, over time, can lead to obesity which is a risk-factor for a lot of chronic illnesses. It’s wonderful that our local farmers markets make it easy for everyone to get fresh, healthy food.”