Merced County Times Newspaper
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Campaign targets food benefit problems among ex-inmates

A new campaign by statewide non-profits is setting out to fix a loophole in California’s food stamp benefits program.

The Thriving Transitions campaign was launched recently to address the problem of former inmates being stricken from food stamp rolls during incarceration. The effort is a partnership of several community organizations, including Nourish California, Root & Rebound, Justice and Aging and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

Current law requires that food stamp benefits be cut automatically when someone is booked into jail or prison. When those people are eventually released they have to reapply and restart the bureaucratic process all over again, forcing them to wait to receive support they already qualify for when they are already in a vulnerable position.

CalFresh is California’s version of the federal food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. More than a million households in California receive SNAP benefits every year.

According to Merced County CalFresh program manager Ignacio De La Cruz, local officials are awaiting guidance from the state on whether or not the program will come to the area. Currently there are around 56,000 people receiving SNAP benefits in the County, up by 5,000 over the last three years.

Thriving Transitions points to research showing that former inmates who experience food insecurity when reentering society are more likely to become homeless and commit crimes that get them put back into the system. Food insecurity after incarceration is especially harmful to older people, who are already at a greater risk of being malnourished. Around 35,000 people are released from prison in California each year. Almost a million are released from jails in the state. Implementing the program could provide around $141 per person per month to Californians leaving jails and prisons.

Orange County successfully pilot tested an early version of the campaign last year. Starting in March 2021, prisoners were able to apply for CalFresh benefits 30 days prior to release. According to officials there, half of the jail inmates in the county had identified mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Around one fifth of inmates there were homeless to begin with.

In order to conduct the pilot program, Orange County had to obtain federal approval, and that’s what Thriving Transitions is calling on lawmakers to do in all 58 counties in the state.

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