Only 19% of Eligible Seniors Use California’s SNAP Food Stamp Benefit – Here’s Why It Matters

Senior couple buying fresh vegetables at the local market.

California has, historically, had issues spreading the word and increasing the adoption of CalFresh, the local name for the federally funded, state-administered Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Live Blog: SNAP (Food Stamps), Social Security Benefits and More
Find: SNAP FAQ: What Is California’s CalFresh and How Can You Apply for Benefits?

Dating back to 2018, NPR wrote a story detailing why California is one of the lowest ranking states for SNAP, formerly called food stamps, benefits participation. At the time, Kim McCoy Wade, chief of the CalFresh branch of California’s Department of Social Services, called the underutilization of the program a “persistent puzzle.”

In 2022, the lack of SNAP adoption is especially affecting California seniors. Only 19% of eligible seniors use the program, according to Overall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that only 70% of eligible California residents take advantage of SNAP benefits, compared to the national average of 82%. This number hasn’t changed compared to 2018 figures, in spite of efforts by the state to increase the program’s adoption rates.

Make Your Money Work for You

In 2011, the state declared May CalFresh Awareness Month and has since provided flyers, instructions, newsletters, social media assets, and other outreach campaigns to share the importance of SNAP benefits with low-income California residents.

Research by the University of California Cooperative Extension in San Luis Obispo in March 2022 discovered that most SNAP applicants in the state hear about CalFresh through a friend or relative, non-profit agency or a college or university.

The Health Benefits of SNAP Participation for California Seniors

SNAP participation, reports, reduces healthcare costs for the state’s residents as a whole. SNAP has been shown to reduce food insecurity. Food insecurity has been associated with a poor diet, which can lead to chronic — and costly — preventable health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

For older adults living at or below poverty level, participation in SNAP can reduce hospital and nursing home admissions, lowering overall health care costs for the state. SNAP participation, a study published by the American Public Health Association shows, also reduces the likelihood that older adults will skip their medications due to a lack of income. That could mean fewer doctor’s office visits and less stress.

Additional Benefits of SNAP Participation

Increased SNAP participation is not just good for those eligible to receive the benefits. It also benefits the state’s economy as a whole, including farmers, co-ops, and local businesses. Studies show that, for every dollar spent on CalFresh, the state experiences $1.50 worth of economic activity.

Make Your Money Work for You

When nutrition incentive programs like Market Match are factored into the equation, that positive impact jumps to $3, putting money directly back into the local economy while making fresh produce more affordable to all residents. Market Match is a program that matches CalFresh and WIC benefits dollar-for-dollar at 240 farm-direct sites across 40 California counties.

Increased CalFresh Benefits Coming to Eligible Residents estimates that Californians are missing out on tens of millions of dollars that could benefit California’s low-income seniors and families who could benefit from affordable, healthy, fresh food, and small businesses that would benefit from the infusion of money.

POLL: Do You Make a Weekly Meal Plan or Other Regular Household Budget?
Discover: When June 2022 CalFresh Benefits Disburse in California

Plus, this month, eligible California residents will receive additional CalFresh benefits through the federal Emergency Allotment program. The additional funds will be added to recipients’ EBT cards as early as June 11, according to

Make Your Money Work for You

More From GOBankingRates

Make Your Money Work for You

About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.
Learn More


See Today's Best
Banking Offers