14 Things to Know about CalFresh

May 23, 2024

May is CalFresh Awareness Month, and ensuring that people have access to nutritious food is more urgent than ever. CalFresh EBT (or SNAP, as it is known federally) provides critical aid to help 5 million Californians put healthy food on the table.

Food prices went up significantly in the last four years, increasing nearly 10% in 2022 alone. While emergency benefits stretched low-income shoppers’ food budgets during the pandemic, those benefits ended in spring 2023, decreasing monthly allotments by $200 per household on average

Meanwhile, food assistance is under threat in California, where CalFresh benefits have been supplemented through the California Nutrition Incentive Program (CNIP). CNIP funds Market Match—a 15-year-old program that doubles shoppers’ CalFresh benefits at farmers markets. However, as California faces a budget deficit, this successful statewide program is in danger of being completely cut, which would be devastating for food-insecure families and small and mid-sized family farms.

Read on to learn about the latest updates to CalFresh and what you can do to protect and preserve California’s food safety net. 

What is CalFresh?

CalFresh is California’s implementation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is the federal program; each state receives funds from the USDA to administer their own version of the program according to the needs of their residents. With roots in the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 and later the Food Stamp Act of 1964, SNAP is a vital food security program that today is critical to helping millions of low-income Americans access nutritious food. Nationwide, 42 million Americans received nutrition assistance through the SNAP program in 2023. That translates to 12.5% of the total U.S. population.

Who is eligible for CalFresh? 

CalFresh serves individuals and families with low incomes, especially seniors, disabled people, and households with children. People who are employed or unemployed, homeless individuals, students, SSI recipients, and immigrants can also be eligible. Learn more about eligibility and income guidelines.

How do I apply for CalFresh?

You can apply online in 10 minutes at GetCalFresh.org.

What is an EBT card?

CalFresh benefits are issued monthly on an EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card, which works similar to a debit card at participating food outlets. Starting in the summer of 2024, California will be one of the first states issuing new SNAP EBT cards with Chip and Tap technology to provide more protection and security.

Where can CalFresh benefits be used?

Most farmers markets, grocery stores, and retail food outlets accept CalFresh benefits. Use this map to find a retailer near you. Some cooperative grocery stores in the Bay Area offer discounts to shoppers using EBT. In San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery offers 10% off and Other Avenues offers 5% off, while Mandela Partners in the East Bay provides a 50% off fresh produce at participating locations through their Fresh Creds program.

What can CalFresh be used to purchase?

CalFresh can be used to purchase eligible food items like fruits, vegetables, beans, meats, dairy products, rice, bread, nuts, and other staples, as well as seeds to grow your own food. Benefits cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, vitamins, medicine, non-food and household items, or most hot or prepared food items.

CalFresh recipients who are 60 years of age or older, disabled, or homeless can use their benefits to purchase prepared meals through the CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program.

Do farmers markets accept CalFresh?

Yes! Many farmers markets⁠—including Foodwise’s⁠ Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and Mission Community Market—accept CalFresh EBT. CalFresh makes farm-fresh, locally grown foods more affordable for thousands of low-income Californians, while supporting small family farms by increasing direct revenue at the farmers market. In addition to CalFresh, many farmers markets also accept other benefits such as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers. See a list of benefits accepted at Foodwise markets.

How do I use CalFresh EBT at the farmers market?

Redeem your CalFresh benefits by visiting the farmers market info booth. Let the market staff know the dollar amounts of benefits you want to redeem, swipe your EBT card, and receive market coins to use at individual farmers market stands. CalFresh coins can be used to purchase any food product except hot foods or food made for immediate consumption.

What is Market Match? How do I double my CalFresh benefits at the farmers market?

When you redeem your CalFresh benefits at the farmers market, you can also be matched through Market Match. Market Match is a nutrition incentive program offered at 130 farmers markets across the state. At participating markets, CalFresh shoppers can double their food dollars, receiving additional market coins for free to spend on fruits and vegetables only. This year, Mandela Grocery Co-op in Oakland became the first grocery store to offer Market Match. As an extension of CalFresh, Market Match helps low-income shoppers afford to buy more locally grown produce, while providing additional income for local farms.

How much of my CalFresh benefits can I get matched at the farmers market?

Here’s how it works: When you withdraw your benefits at the info booth in exchange for CalFresh tokens, you can receive an equal amount in Market Match coins for free up to a set limit. This limit varies at different farmers markets.

At Foodwise farmers markets through June 2024, you can get matched up to $15 per person per day. So, for your $15 in CalFresh benefits, you now have $30 to spend on fresh, locally grown food at the farmers market. Market Match coins (green) are good for fruits and vegetables only, while your EBT coins (red) can be used for anything in the market (with the exception of hot food items or flowers).

Important update: Starting July 1, 2024, the Market Match limit at Foodwise farmers markets will decrease to $10 per person per day, as impending state budget cuts are impacting markets across the state. This decrease allows Foodwise to offer Market Match year-round, rather than spending through our allotted budget and having to halt Market Match at the end of the year.

What additional nutrition assistance is being offered for families this summer?

SUN Bucks, also known as Summer EBT,  is a new grocery benefit available across most of the U.S., including in California. Families with eligible school-aged children can get $120 per child to buy groceries during the summer (June, July, August). If you’re already enrolled in benefits like SNAP, TANF, or FDPIR, your school-age children will automatically be enrolled in SUN Bucks. Families can receive SUN Bucks on top of other benefits like SNAP and WIC. 

Do SUN Bucks work with Market Match?

Yes! You can double your SUN Bucks through Market Match at participating farmers markets.

What can I do to save Market Match?

Funded by the California Nutrition Incentive Program (CNIP), Market Match is currently in danger of being cut from California’s 2025 budget. This would be devastating for thousands of food-insecure Californians who depend on CalFresh EBT to feed their families, as well as our small California farms.

Here are some actions you can take to save Market Match:

What are some other ways to stretch my CalFresh benefits?

For additional tips on shopping on a budget, read 10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Budget at the Farmers MarketEating Well on a Food Stamp Budget, and Good and Cheap: How One Author Learned to Cook on $4 a Day.

Visit the Foodwise Info Booth to learn about CalFresh and Market Match

Visit the Foodwise Info Booth to learn about CalFresh and Market Match. On Thursday, May 30, celebrate CalFresh Awareness Month at Mission Community Market with giveaways, kids activities, and more.

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