Few Eligible California Seniors Receive Federal Food Assistance

December 17, 2014

One in seven Americans had trouble affording enough food in 2013, according to federal data released earlier this year. Among seniors 65 and older, 8.7 percent were food insecure nationwide. Yet, seniors are less likely than other demographic groups to participate in the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In this post, we examine county-by-county trends in food assistance for California seniors, a strikingly small share of whom receive CalFresh — California’s version of SNAP. (See map below for seniors’ CalFresh participation by county.) In previous blog posts, we looked at county-by-county enrollment in CalFresh for the overall population and for children specifically.

(Click here for three years of data and a full-size map with 2013 data.)

Seniors enroll in CalFresh at rates that are strikingly low compared with their poverty rate. Statewide, 10.4 percent of California seniors lived below the poverty line in 2013, and a 2011 survey that found that 9.5 percent of California seniors were food insecure. However, only 2.6 percent of seniors in California participate in CalFresh.

One big reason for the discrepancy between food insecurity among seniors and their receipt of food assistance is this: California is the only state in which recipients of Social Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) grants are not eligible for SNAP. This state policy has been in place since 1974, the beginning of the SSI/SSP program. Initially, California’s SSI/SSP grants were generous enough that recipients were eligible only for the minimum SNAP benefit of $10. To ease the paperwork burden, the state implemented a “cash-out,” which provided a few extra dollars in the SSI/SSP grant for food. However, the overall SSI/SSP grant has failed to keep pace with inflation, and the maximum grant for an individual is now below the federal poverty line.

About a third of the state’s SSI/SSP recipients are seniors; the rest are people with disabilities. Unfortunately, simply ending cash-out in order to make seniors eligible for CalFresh is also likely to decrease benefits for families living with a person with disabilities, families who are particularly vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity. Policymakers can ease food insecurity and help seniors and other vulnerable Californians by investing in SSI/SSP to gradually bring grants above the poverty line. They could also index the grants to inflation to prevent further erosion.

Among seniors who aren’t enrolled in SSI/SSP but whose incomes are low enough to qualify for food assistance, some may believe that the minimum CalFresh benefit for which they may qualify — $15 per month — is not worth the paperwork, while others may be embarrassed about receiving public assistance. This is why counties are concentrating on targeted outreach strategies, such as ad campaigns that focus on seniors and screening events at senior centers.

Clearly, there is much to be done to help California seniors access CalFresh. Good nutrition and reliable access to food are among the most important preventive care strategies for diabetes and heart disease. Seniors who have trouble putting food on the table are about 50 percent more likely to report a heart attack or develop asthma, and are 60 percent more likely to experience depression, compared to seniors who have adequate access to food. Broadening the reach of CalFresh can keep California’s seniors healthier while helping them avoid having to choose between paying for food and paying rent, medicine and other necessities.

— Miranda Everitt


Remembering Lark Galloway-Gilliam, a Longtime Part of the CBP Family

December 16, 2014

The board of directors and staff of the California Budget Project (CBP) express heartfelt condolences to the family, colleagues, and friends of Lark Galloway-Gilliam, who passed away earlier this month. Lark dedicated herself to working for social and economic justice in her native Los Angeles, on the state level, and nationally. Although Lark had numerous leadership roles during her career, she is probably best known as the founder and executive director of Community Health Councils, Inc.Lark Galloway-Gilliam

Since joining the CBP board of directors in 2001, Lark had been a guiding voice in our efforts to advance public policy outcomes that reduce poverty and inequality and create opportunity for low- and middle-income Californians. Anybody who worked closely with Lark was impressed and inspired by her intelligence and commitment. As a way of honoring Lark, I wanted to share a few reflections from CBP leaders — past and present — on her immeasurable impact.

“Lark made immense contributions to the California Budget Project as a longtime board member. Her insights and efforts helped build the Budget Project into an important voice for how the California budget can be a vehicle to promote economic justice and social equality. Her commitment to serving her community infused and gave value to her contributions as a board member. She will be sorely missed.” — Paul Rosenstiel, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, CBP board chair

“Lark was a dedicated force for change who understood that health equity could only be achieved within a broader framework of fiscal and economic justice. Her participation on the CBP’s board reflected that understanding. I valued her wise counsel, which was informed by a deep understanding of the communities she worked within. My thoughts are with her family, staff, and friends.” — Jean Ross, Ford Foundation, former CBP executive director

“Lark was an incredibly effective advocate and institution-builder who took a comprehensive approach to improving health outcomes in South Los Angeles and other underserved communities. As part of that, she valued and understood the importance of CBP’s research and analysis. I always valued the insights that she brought from years of experience and a deep commitment to California’s most vulnerable communities.” — Jennifer Ito, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, CBP board member

The California Budget Project family will greatly miss Lark, a visionary and remarkable leader. We will remember her deep commitment to independent analysis and informed debate, and her passion for improving conditions for California’s families and communities. We honor and celebrate her many contributions, which will live on in our future work.

— Chris Hoene


New CBP Infographic: Navigating the State Budget Process

December 15, 2014

Understanding the process by which policymakers craft California’s state spending plan each year is important for staying engaged in the debate. As part of its annual budget workshop and preview in Sacramento last week, the California Budget Project (CBP) released a new infographic that illustrates what happens when and shows the roles and major activities of the Governor, the Legislature, and the public in the year-round budget cycle. A full-size version (PDF) of this infographic is available here.

Navigating the State Budget Process

This infographic also appears in an update of the CBP’s publication, Dollars and Democracy: A Guide to the State Budget Process. In addition to highlighting key facts about our state budget, Dollars and Democracy discusses the constitutional framework for the budget process, defines important terms and concepts, and looks in depth at the main activities and timeline of the budget process.

— Steven Bliss


We’re Hiring! The CBP Is Looking for a Communications Associate

December 12, 2014

The California Budget Project (CBP) is now hiring a Communications Associate who will be a critical part of our team and help develop strategies for ensuring our research, analysis, and commentary reach core audiences. These include policymakers and their staffs, advocates, community leaders, and the media, as well as members of the public with an interest in how state policies can promote broadly shared prosperity.

Key roles and responsibilities include:

  • Writing blog posts, media releases, e-newsletters, and other communications/outreach materials.
  • Working with the Communications Director on implementing — and continually refining — the CBP’s social media strategy.
  • Coordinating regional events and outreach across California that enable the CBP to engage with key partners and stakeholders in their own communities.
  • Conducting stakeholder/audience/legislative research that informs and helps shape the CBP’s communications and outreach efforts.
  • Assisting with the day-to-day management of the CBP’s website.
  • Helping to create charts, infographics, and other highly accessible and visually interesting ways of sharing the CBP’s research and analysis.
  • Establishing and maintaining contact with media representatives and policymakers.
  • Compiling and analyzing metrics on our reach and impact.

Qualifications for the Communications Associate position include:

  • Self-motivation, ability to work independently and as part of a collaborative team, and ability to prioritize multiple tasks and deadlines.
  • Some experience with and/or understanding of federal, state, or local public policy.
  • Exceptional written and verbal communications skills.
  • Strong computer and IT skills, including familiarity with – or willingness to learn – WordPress blogging platform, Salesforce, Adobe Illustrator, and Excel.
  • Fluency in Spanish highly desirable.

This position is full-time and is based at the CBP’s office in downtown Sacramento. Salary will be based on experience and includes health and dental benefits. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

To apply, send a cover letter and resume, two brief writing samples, and three references to Communications Associate, California Budget Project, 1107 9th Street, Suite 310, Sacramento, CA 95814, or send materials as a single PDF attachment to cbp@cbp.org.

The California Budget Project is an equal opportunity employer. All interested individuals, including women, people of color, persons with disabilities, LGBT individuals, and ex-offenders are encouraged to apply.

— Steven Bliss


Top Things to Know About a State EITC for California

December 8, 2014

As policymakers grapple with how to ensure economic security for the 5.6 million Californians living in poverty, one option needs to be part of the discussion: a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). A state EITC could give millions of Californians a much-needed economic boost by building on the successful federal EITC, a tax credit that has been instrumental in lifting families out of poverty and helping them make ends meet.

How would a state EITC work in California? And what should policymakers consider when designing one? Last week, we released a report answering these questions. Here are some of the most important things to know about a state EITC:

  • To be effective, a state EITC must be refundable. While Californians pay a variety of state and local taxes — and low-income households on average pay a larger share of their income on taxes than do higher-income households — many low-income households do not pay income tax because of its graduated structure. If a tax credit is refundable, then a taxpayer receives the credit even if they do not owe any income tax. This is key if policymakers want a state EITC to reach those who would most benefit from it. A refundable state EITC would reach about one in five California families, while a nonrefundable state EITC would reach less than 0.5 percent of California families.
  • A state EITC is typically set as a percentage of the federal credit. Generally, a state EITC is directly based off the federal EITC and will simply “add on” to what the federal credit provides. (For additional detail on how the federal EITC works, see this useful summary.) This means that the main features of a state EITC — who is eligible for a credit and how the size of the credit varies for different types of households — are already established. If California were to pursue this path, one of the most important decisions is at what percentage of the federal EITC to set the California credit. The higher this percentage, the larger the credit to families. For example, a refundable, 15 percent state credit would provide, on average, a $321 tax credit to families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, while a 30 percent credit would provide an average tax credit worth $638 to these families.
  • A state EITC structured as a simple add-on to the federal credit would primarily benefit families with children. Under this model, a larger share of families with children than without children would receive a credit, and the credit would be, on average, substantially larger for families with children. For example, if California had a refundable state EITC that was 15 percent of the federal credit, a little more than one-third of families with at least one child (36 percent) would receive a credit, compared to just 7 percent of households without children (see table). Moreover, the average credit for families with at least one child would be $481, compared to just $61 for childless adults.

12.8.14-EITC-by-Family-Type

As our report outlines, there are plenty of reasons to pass a state EITC. Not only would it give more than 3 million households additional economic support, it would also help rebalance California’s tax system, which currently asks the lowest-income households to pay the largest share of their income in taxes. Further, a state EITC would help strengthen California’s safety net. It’s a smart approach to the crisis of poverty in California. In the coming weeks, additional posts on this blog will look in depth at different aspects of a state EITC.

— Luke Reidenbach


Tried and Tested Ways of Reducing Jail Overcrowding

November 24, 2014

On November 4, California voters approved Proposition 47, a measure that downgrades certain low-level offenses to misdemeanors, thereby limiting the sentence for those crimes to a maximum of one year in county jail. CBP’s analysis of Proposition 47 concluded that this reduction in length of stay could not only lessen the harm that incarceration causes to an individual’s physical and mental health, but could also alleviate jail overcrowding by thousands of beds each year.

This potential for reducing jail-capacity needs should come as good news to state officials, given that California has invested $1.7 billion since 2007 to build new jails or replace and expand old ones, in part to address jail overcrowding. Indeed, the 2014-15 budget agreement provides an additional $500 million for jail construction, despite concern expressed by the Legislative Analyst’s Office that such added capacity may not be necessary.

While passage of Proposition 47 is expected to help address jail overcrowding, counties could potentially build on this key advance by more fully using several other alternatives to incarceration that reduce jail populations while fostering public safety:

  • Counties could employ validated risk-assessment tools to ensure that only individuals who pose a high risk to public safety are detained in their jails. Contra Costa County has been able to manage its jail population through a combination of several strategies, including use of a risk-assessment tool to determine what level of supervision and services people in their jail require. According to a recent study, Contra Costa County has achieved lower rates of incarceration than the rest of the state along with a decrease in crime that mirrors the statewide trend.
  • Counties could reduce the number of people detained in jail prior to their court date by providing alternative supervision in the community. Santa Cruz County created the Jail Alternatives Initiative in 2004 to address a grand jury report pointing to unsafe conditions in the local jail due to overcrowding. The initiative established a pretrial services program that uses five different types of release based on the needs of the individual. This has allowed the county to maintain lower numbers of people in jail awaiting their court date compared to the rest of California.
  • Counties could perform a comprehensive analysis of who is serving time in their jails to identify populations that would be better served through community-based programs. The City and County of San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has been collaborating with local nonprofit organizations since the 1980s to develop alternatives to detention for populations with specialized needs. In particular, a growing number of homeless individuals were not eligible for release from jail while they were waiting for their court date because they did not have an address. Additionally, homeless populations are particularly vulnerable to high-risk health factors, such as infectious diseases, problematic drug use, and mental health issues. A local nonprofit created the Homeless Release Project, which identified transient individuals who were detained pretrial for misdemeanor crimes and linked them with housing, medical care, mental health and drug treatment, and other necessary services. A preliminary study of the program found that participants were less likely to reoffend or to commit more serious crimes, and the project was subsequently consolidated into a larger scheme of pretrial services.

Now that Proposition 47 has passed, counties will have to consider what effect it may have on their jail populations and determine whether they really do need further construction funding. But at the same time, the state board that will administer the new state funding for added jail capacity should consider whether counties have fully embraced available population-management strategies when evaluating applications for construction dollars.

— Selena Teji

 


Statement From Chris Hoene on the New LAO Forecast: “California Must Continue to Reinvest”

November 20, 2014

Yesterday, Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget Project, released the following statement in response to the new long-term fiscal forecast from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO):

“The new budget forecast from the Legislative Analyst’s Office is encouraging on some key fronts, with the economy continuing to recover and the state regaining its financial footing. California’s public K-12 schools and its community colleges are expected to see additional dollars, both in the current budget year and looking ahead to 2015-16.

“We also see in this forecast that state policymakers have the opportunity to significantly rebuild support for other vital public services, while continuing to save for a rainy day and pay down state debts. Especially in light of a recovery that has failed to reach so many individuals and families, California must continue to reinvest in child care and preschool, the CSU and UC systems, support for low-income seniors and people with disabilities, and the other foundations of a strong economy and healthy communities.”


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