Credit: File Photo | Mustang News

Editor’s note: This article is available in Spanish here.

A government program that offers free groceries to those who are eligible is now available to many students who previously didn’t qualify.

CalFresh is the state of California’s federal Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program (SNAP), which can offer recipients a maximum of $281 monthly stipend for groceries. 

Liv Watts, Cal Poly’s interim CalFresh outreach co-manager, told Mustang News that 39% of Cal Poly students are currently experiencing food insecurity — up from 27% in 2018.

Despite nearly a quarter of students being food insecure, only 613 Cal Poly students are currently enrolled in CalFresh, according to Robb Koch, the program manager for CalFresh at San Luis Obispo County Social Services.

As of Sept. 1, the county’s Department of Social Services took over the process of approving what counted as “Local Programs to Increase Employability” (LPIE), which can make certain people eligible for food stamps if they’re in a job training-related program.

“[This rule change] makes things really easy for our department to say a student at Cal Poly or Cuesta College or Allen Hancock, you are enrolled in this program,” Koch said. “It is recognized as an LPIE, so you are eligible for the student exemption and we can aid you on CalFresh.”

The Cal Poly CalFresh outreach program posted a section of the newly approved programs to their Instagram on Sept. 23.

Previously, San Luis Obispo county ranked 57 out of 58 California counties in SNAP enrollments in an internal review done by CalFresh in 2020. 

The most recent enrollment numbers show a near 30% increase in SNAP enrollments in the county from pre-pandemic levels of around 9-10,000 households in 2019 to 13,919 as of July 2022. According to Koch, the rise in SNAP enrollments can be attributed to CalFresh’s new outreach programs.                                            

Nationally, SNAP enrollments have gone from around 18 million households in 2019 to nearly 21.6 million in 2022. 

Those interested in applying for CalFresh can find more information at https://www.getcalfresh.org/en/apply. According to the CalFresh site at time of publication, application processing may be delayed as counties are receiving “more applications than usual.”