California Will Extend Food Benefits to Some Undocumented Immigrants

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
food benefits

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: California Food Assistance Program, 2022-2023 Budget

Overview: California will become the first state to extend food benefits to undocumented immigrants aged 55 or older. 

Location: California

Population: 75,000 undocumented immigrants age 55+

Food policy category: Food security

Program goals: To protect the rights and health of undocumented immigrants.

How it works: CalFresh is California’s federally funded food assistance program, the equivalent of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food stamps. The California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is a state-funded program that was created to provide food benefits to qualified non-citizens who are not eligible for CalFresh based on their immigration status under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. However, undocumented immigrants have not qualified for either program until now. 

California’s 2022-2023 budget includes $40 million to extend CFAP benefits to undocumented immigrants aged 55 and over who meet the same income requirements as all other individuals receiving CalFresh or CFAP benefits. 

The budget is expected to increase to $113.4 million by 2025-2026.

Progress to date: In January 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom included funding in the proposed 2022-2023 budget that would allow undocumented immigrants age 55 and over to receive food benefits. He then announced the budget agreement on June 26, 2022.

Why it is important: According to the nonprofit Nourish California, there are approximately 2.3 million undocumented immigrants living in California, 45 percent of whom are experiencing food insecurity. Participation in CalFresh and CFAP is associated with improved health outcomes, greater food security, and decreased levels of poverty because of the money saved on food purchases and healthcare. An expansion of CFAP to include low-income, undocumented immigrants over the age of 55 has the potential to significantly improve health and quality of life for those individuals. 

Program/Policy initiated: The budget agreement was announced on June 26, 2022. 

Point of contact: 
Office of Governor Gavin Newsom
Phone: (916) 445-2841

Similar practices: California will be the first state to provide food benefits to undocumented immigrants. California’s 2022-2023 budget also includes an expansion of MediCal benefits to provide health insurance coverage to low-income, undocumented immigrants of all ages. 

Evaluation: While this is undoubtedly a positive step for undocumented immigrants’ rights, advocates from Nourish California’s Food4All Campaign are saying that more work needs to be done to include all immigrants of all ages. Formal evaluation has not yet been completed. 

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