Hoping to dispel misleading reports about consequences for applying for CalFresh and other food assistance programs for immigrants in the process of becoming a U.S. resident, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) this week assembled a knowledgeable panel of speakers to provide clarity on the issue and ease concerns among the local immigrant population.
With the historic Adams/Vermont Farmer’s Market serving as the backdrop, the goal of the CalFresh public charge forum was to dispel common misperceptions regarding the nutrition-based, food assistance program that serves as the first line of defense against food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger.
“Immigration rights advocates throughout the state agree that the public charge issue is one of the leading reasons why many low-income families and individuals in need of food assistance are not applying for CalFresh,” said DeLlora Ellis-Gant, Director, DPSS CalFresh Nutrition Program, who served as the panel moderator.
Public charge is a term that describes a non-U.S. citizen who is likely to become dependent on public assistance and benefits that provide cash.
The forum was part of the month-long movement to observe CalFresh Awareness Month, the department’s annual effort to highlight the critical role that CalFresh plays in eliminating the threat of food insecurity, or the lack of reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. The speakers included Marcella Ruiz, Branch Chief, California Department of Social Services (CDSS) Immigration and Refugee Program Branch; Heng Lam Foong, Senior Policy Manager, Health Access Project - Asian Americans Advancing Justice of Los Angeles; Kiran Saluja, Executive Director, PHFE WIC (Women, Infants & Children).
Hunger negatively impacts the intellectual, physical and emotional development of children, putting them at greater risks for obesity, diabetes and other diseases. The latest Los Angeles County Department of Public Health report on food insecurity revealed that more than half a million L.A. County households fall into this description. The report states that CalFresh is a significant resource in a “multi-sector approach” to improving food insecurity.
With conflicting reports circulating throughout the state, Ruiz emphasized that the eligibility requirements for CalFresh have not changed and that “no one should forgoe the benefits entiltled to you.” She urged those who are worried to always consult with trusted immigration services providers, naming a few that were in the audience at the forum.
“Providing access to nutrition for our low-income immigrant population is vital in order to prevent and manage diseases,” said Heng Lam Foong, pointing out that public charge is a complicated and confusing issue, but nothing to be stressed about.
Kiran Saluja added with enthuiasm that neither CalFresh or WIC are a public charge. Saluja shared that as many as 40,000 mothers that receive CalFresh are also eligible for WIC. “Many are going without food out of fear and that’s has to stop!”
During the month of May, DPSS is increasing its #ChooseCalFresh social media campaign to address the growing threat of food insecurity, building on the department’s existing strategies by seizing on the power of social media to better inform and serve residents. The department will also participate in hundreds of CalFresh information and enrollment events at local supermarkets, community centers, schools, clinics and other locations.
The effort is supported by a host of community and faith-based organizations and business partners that have played a major role in the annual collaboration since 2011.