The Hunger Advocacy Network's 2017 State Policy Priorities Pass!


Each year, the Hunger Advocacy Network (HAN), facilitated by the San Diego Hunger Coalition, selects State hunger relief policies to prioritize for its lobbying efforts. This year, HAN was aided by a new wave of support from its grassroots Hunger Free Activist network. These everyday activists and partners receive periodic opportunities to use their voice, when it matters most, to support key pieces of legislation that will protect and expand programs like CalFresh/SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and School Meals. The Hunger Free Activists’ tweets, posts, calls, emails and letters over the past year worked! All of HAN’s state priority policies either passed or were included in the 2017-2018 state budget.

2017 State Priority Policy Initiatives

SB 138 (McGuire) - Feed the Kids: This law increases access to free and reduced-price school meals by implementing Medi-Cal Direct Certification statewide and calls upon very high poverty schools to offer free school meals to all students.
Signed by Governor Jerry Brown - October 12, 2017

AB 1219 (Eggman) – Good Samaritan Food Donation Act: This law clarifies and expands existing liability protections for food donors to reduce waste and increases resources for San Diegans struggling with food insecurity. 
Signed by Governor Jerry Brown - October 9, 2017

AB 607 (Gloria) - Community Resiliency & Disaster Preparedness Act of 2017: This law protects against increased hunger and hardship of low-income families during a disaster by requiring the CalFresh program to maximize replacement benefit options during a disaster or power-outage and provide additional budget resources to be triggered in the case of a disaster declared by the Governor to improve the success of a federal request for disaster anti-hunger assistance and administration of the aid.
Signed by Governor Jerry Brown - October 5, 2017

AB 214 (Weber) – College Hunger: This law addresses college student hunger by defining terms used in the CalFresh program to determine eligibility and clarifies the law concerning CalFresh Restaurant Meal Program on college campuses.
Signed by Governor Jerry Brown - July 24, 2017

AB 164 (Arambula) – California Leads to Meet Food Needs: This funding will establish a new state-funded anti-hunger CalFresh benefit to be issued under prescribed circumstances, such as drought, disaster, or in the case of federal SNAP ineligibility, and to be issued using the EBT system.
The 2017-2018 Budget includes one-time funding of $5 million for a CalFresh Unsafe Drinking Water Benefit Pilot program. This program will provide benefits to residents served by public water systems that fail to meet safe drinking water standards. 

What’s Next?

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed versions of a FY 2018 Budget Resolution that expedites tax cuts for the wealthy, at the expense of programs that support low and middle-income people. This includes threats to cut SNAP (known as CalFresh in California). In the coming months, Congress will be writing the budget legislation that they will vote on. As details become available, we will be back in touch to ask you to contact members of Congress and ask them to protect important federal programs that provide food assistance to members of our community. 

Why 1 in 6 People in San Diego County Don't Have Enough to Eat

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A family walks up to the cashier at the grocery store, takes out their wallet to purchase food, and doesn’t have enough to pay for the items on the checkout belt. How did they get here?

It is easy to conclude that this family made poor individual choices and decisions. Perhaps they didn’t budget their money wisely that month. Perhaps they haven’t put in the effort to find a higher-paying job. Perhaps they rely on CalFresh/SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and already used up all their monthly benefits.

The reality of food insecurity in San Diego – and across the nation – is far more complex than individual choice and isolated moments at the checkout line.

Living Wage Jobs

Unless a person sustains themselves entirely on food they grow themselves – something that has become increasingly rare in the United States – they need a source of income. Finding and securing a living wage job is not a simple feat. One needs training, education, work experience, and connections to gain employment.  

In San Diego County, a staggeringly high cost of living and high competition for a limited number of living wage jobs intensifies the challenge. If a San Diegan does not have a basic adult education and lacks work experience, it may take anywhere from three to five to as many as ten years to overcome this barrier. While a person pursues career training or education, they must survive with a limited income. When faced with costs related to career and education, food often becomes a “flexible expense.” One group this often applies to is college students. In 2016, nearly 20% of University of California students reported experiencing very low food security. Facing the rising costs of books, supplies, and tuition, students may skip meals to pay for their education.              

Cost of Food, Time, and Transportation

Food prices (and the relative prices of other necessary goods) impacts whether people experience food insecurity. In San Diego County, the average cost of a meal is $3.23, higher than the national average of $2.94. Further, to shop for and cook food at home requires time, food literacy, and cooking skills. This means that more afforable (and less healthy) prepared food is often the only viable option.  

 Lastly, a person may struggle to make it to the checkout line at all. For residents who live in a “food desert,” the nearest grocery store may be far enough away to necessitate a car ride. The cost of owning, maintaining, and fueling a car can add up. In car-dependent San Diego County, the weight of these costs is particularly heavy.


Federal food assistance programs act as vital safety nets for those experiencing financial hardship. However, these programs are not always available to those who need them. The Federal Poverty Level – the metric that determines eligibility for these programs – is an outdated measure that only captures extreme deprivation.

For example, to be eligible to receive CalFresh benefits, a person must have a household gross monthly income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. The 2017 Federal Poverty Level threshold for a family of four is $24,600, so 200% of that level is $49,200. In San Diego County, however, a family of four may need as much as 300‐365% of the Federal Poverty Level (or $73,800 - $89,790) to meet their most basic needs, especially if their children are not yet in school and require childcare.

Further, the structure of federal food assistance is such that as a person gradually rises in income level, attaining more skills and training, they experience sharp cuts in benefits. This “benefits cliff” traps people between ineligible for benefits but not making enough to make ends meet. Lastly, many of those who are eligible for federal food assistance do not receive benefits because of complex eligibility guidelines, excessive paperwork, or lack of awareness.

Household and Individual Characteristics

Many factors outside of individual choice affect whether a person has enough food for an active, healthy life. A person's mental and physical health status may serve as a barrier to food access. This often includes veterans, the elderly, and those living with disabilities, among others. For example, in San Diego County, 49.1% of food insecure adults are disabled. Whether a person has a partner or spouse to supplement income can influence their ability to access food. For example, in San Diego County, 64.6% of low-income single parent households are food insecure.

Persistent Historical Inequality

Perhaps the most enduring root cause of food insecurity in the United States is racial, ethnic, and class-based inequities that span generations. Inequity has been deeply entrenched in policies and practices throughout our history. This inequity has created a divide in the accumulation of wealth (savings, home, or business equity) that historically advantages some populations, while disadvantaging others. Low-income people, people of color, women, single mothers, people with disabilities, etc. are more likely to experience food insecurity because of intergenerational inequality.

For example, over the past 30 years, the average wealth of white families has grown by 84% —1.2 times the rate of growth for the Latino/a population and 3 times the rate of growth for the African American population. This mirrors the reality of food insecurity in San Diego County, where food insecure adults are disproportionately Latino/a. 52.7% of food insecure adults are Latino/a, versus 26.3% that are White.

The Reality of Food Insecurity

In sum, food insecurity is the result of a complex relationship between the ability to acquire and maintain a living wage job, the cost of food, time, and transportation, food assistance policies, and enduring historical inequalities. When we see food insecurity with this lens – not a result of poor individual choices, but a result of a complex array of environmental, social, and historical factors – we are better able to make strides in ensuring that all San Diegans have enough food.

- Authored by Rosa Rada, 2017 Emerson Hunger Fellow