For fourth-year Meri Klingelhofer, the additional $95 she received per month from CalFresh’s COVID-19 emergency allotment funds made all the difference in her ability to maintain a nutritious diet. The comfort of cooking and eating fresh produce with reduced financial concern is something she will miss.
“It’s been such a nice thing to have as a college student, just to know that you can go to a grocery store and not have to worry about cutting back in other areas of your life,” Klingelhofer said. “Fruit is expensive!”
Over 127,000 college students across California use CalFresh, and many are anxiously preparing for the decrease in their budgets starting April. It will be the first month since March of 2020 that they will not have access to emergency allotment funds that amount to an additional $95 per month for single-person households.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 provided the state of California with funding that kept countless EBT recipients afloat with emergency allotment funds during the pandemic.
However, with the end of the COVID-19 State of Emergency also comes the termination of these additional benefits.
Congress failed to extend emergency CalFresh benefits into the 2023 fiscal year as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, a spending bill that determined the federal government’s annual budget.
When second-year Island Gutierrez thinks about how CalFresh’s emergency benefits influenced her life during the pandemic, she is reminded of the comfort that they gave her. In April, her monthly grocery budget will drop from $345 to $250.
“Food is really expensive,” Gutierrez said. “$250 for four weeks of eating doesn’t feel as safe.”
While students adjust, on-campus resource organizations are finding themselves frustrated with how little federal and state governments are doing to accommodate those struggling with food insecurity.
Kednel Jean, the director of UC Santa Cruz’s Basic Needs program, recalls that his department did not receive any extra financial assistance at the state level during the pandemic — despite the fact that student demands altered so drastically.
UCSC Basic Needs’ navigation of student hunger is twofold: aiming to meet students’ immediate need for food through food pantry access, while developing more substantial financial solutions like CalFresh that can reduce day-to-day dependency.
The Redwood Free Market, Cowell Coffee Shop, Swipes for Slugs, and the SUA Food Pantry are a few of the on-campus resources Jean listed that provide students with on-campus access to free meals and groceries.
The Basic Needs Office advertises on-campus programs through email campaigns, by posting flyers around campus and on city buses, and via social media.
“The Redwood Free Market [and] the Cowell Coffee Shop are doing pretty well as far as doing short term crisis intervention,” Jean said. “But long-term, I would definitely say CalFresh is one of the better solutions.”
UCSC Basic Needs works closely with the Office of Government and Community Relations on campus. Through this collaboration, Jean hopes the two departments will be able to influence the Biden Administration to codify the need-based emergency regulations that were put in place in 2020.
In addition to being an EBT recipient herself, Meri Klingelhofer has also worked as a CalFresh application assistant under the UCSC Dean of Students since September 2022.
According to her, Santa Cruz County is required to notify applicants within 30 days as to whether or not they qualify for CalFresh benefits.
However, she believes disorganization in CalFresh’s chain of command often creates barriers for students applying for benefits; for instance, when county officials do not keep up to date with policies that dictate when students are eligible to receive aid.
“We’ve had some students come back to us and say that they had trouble with the[ir] representative… They were denied right off the bat,” said Klingelhofer.
For Gutierrez, outreach will be more important than ever in ensuring that students like her are aware of what will be available to them as federal benefits decrease. Although she is familiar with on-campus resources, she recognizes that not everyone is in the same boat.
The end of the COVID-19 state of emergency has reinforced Gutierrez’s understanding of just how important government funding is for both students and the university’s basic needs infrastructure.
“Extra funding for these resource centers would be really nice. They do a lot of good things, but they could always use more.”