In-Depth: More college students eligible for CalFresh assistance as new school year begins

San Diego universities working to spread the word
Posted at 6:05 AM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 10:55:25-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - As students return to campus, San Diego's three biggest universities are trying to get the word out that many may now be eligible for food assistance from CalFresh.

Thanks to the most recent Federal Pandemic Relief Act, eligibility requirements expanded. Before, only students who qualified for federal or state work-study programs and worked at least 20 hours per week were eligible for CalFresh.

Now, any student eligible for work-study or whose "expected family contribution" is $0 can get CalFresh benefits.

"This is opening up to thousands more students that can get benefits over $200 per month," says Dustin Adkins, a resource coordination assistant with San Diego State's Economic Crisis Response Team.

According to a recent survey, 35% of California college students face food insecurity. A survey of schools in the California State system found their number is closer to 42%. At Cal State San Marcos, 50% of respondents to a survey said they faced hunger.

School officials across San Diego say they believe those numbers went up over the last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

CalFresh specialists at CSU San Marcos hope the eligibility expansion will bring them back down.

"Students will no longer have to make that decision of am I going to use my money this week for gas, or my textbooks, or my school supplies, or am I gonna use it for my dinner?" says Noemi Ramirez, the CalFresh specialist for the ASI Cougar Pantry at CSU San Marcos.

CSU San Marcos just expanded their food pantry, tripling the size of their warehouse and adding a conference room for students to get information and help. They also sent 4,000 postcards to newly eligible students for CalFresh and are coordinating with other campus groups to get the word out about the expansion.

The school also added two more CalFresh specialists to their staff.

SDSU is adding two graduate outreach assistants to their Economic Crisis Response Team to help sign up more students. Their specialists will work five days a week virtually and two days per week in the office. A food pantry is also open three times each week.

"We know San Diego is expensive. It's hard to live here," says Adkins. "We know that the need is here. So we have a duty to make sure we're getting this out to our students and informing them you might be eligible, and we have resources to help you apply."

UC San Diego began emailing all newly eligible students about the program in the spring. They've also held workshops to help people apply and have run a handful of outreach programs to spread the word. To help with food insecurity, the school also offers the Triton Food Pantry. Coordinators on campus say applications from students have doubled over the last six months.

"I would just encourage everyone who has any type of challenges accessing food to reach out and to apply," says UC San Diego Food Security Programs Coordinator Nydia Lopez. "Just take advantage of this opportunity."

Students are encouraged to check with their school about eligibility and for help with applications.