People struggling with hunger in the rural communities of San Diego County often face severe barriers to accessing vital food assistance through CalFresh. When Lisa (name changed) found herself homeless and without enough food, she attempted to enroll in CalFresh to obtain the nutrition she needed. Lisa qualified for expedited services and, if she lived in urban San Diego County, she may have been able to apply for CalFresh and start purchasing food through the program that same day. But in her rural area, Lisa had to wait without CalFresh support for a full week.
Without a car or consistent phone reception, Lisa faced a number of serious challenges. Fortunately, one of our East County CalFresh partners, Mountain Health and Community Services, stepped in to help Lisa with the CalFresh enrollment process. But even using all the tools available at Mountain Health and Community Services, Lisa wasn’t able to obtain CalFresh for more than a week.
In order to help people like Lisa access the food they need, the Hunger Coalition has partnered with Mountain Health and Community Services and San Diego County’s Health and Human Service Agency to make accessing CalFresh easier and more efficient for people who live in rural areas of San Diego County.
Unique Challenges in Rural Communities
- Transportation: Rural areas have fewer bus lines, less stops and longer wait times, making it difficult to apply for CalFresh in person. For those who have cars, the nearest County office can be up to an hour away. In times of need, this gas money and time away from work and childcare is difficult to find.
- Communication: Cell phone, landline and mail service is limited in rural areas.
- Food Access: Many rural areas are food deserts with a limited number of grocery stores. Many people in rural areas have to rely upon convenience stores, where healthy food may not be available and prices are much higher.
- CalFresh and Tribal Reservations: Tribal areas have specific CalFresh regulations that make the application process more confusing and time consuming.
- Limited Resources: Social services like meal sites, food pantries and homeless shelters are much less common and more difficult to access in rural areas – if they exist at all.
Recent Success In Bringing CalFresh Access To Rural Areas…
Our CalFresh Task Force continues to work together and with different County government entities to solve these problems. Here are a few recent victories:
- Most people in rural areas use a P.O. Box for their mail, since they don’t have postal service to their homes. Previously, CalFresh applicants with a P.O. Box were required to go through extra steps to provide additional documents and data that required more time and complications. Our CalFresh Task Force worked with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency to successfully remove these extra hurdles for people in rural communities.
- We worked with Mountain Health and Community Services to train County staff at the El Cajon Family Resource Center on the unique challenges of clients in rural areas and the best ways to improve service.
- San Diego Hunger Coalition met with managers at the El Cajon County office, as well as County leadership to develop new, innovative strategies for bringing rural communities better access to CalFresh. These conversations have led to, among other exciting potential improvements, the development of new ways to administer the CalFresh interview required in the application process for rural clients.
…And More to Come