SANTA ROSA, CA — For low-income Sonoma County residents and families living paycheck to paycheck, the fires left several financial worries in their wake. For more than 2,100 households, immediate help was needed to buy enough food to feed their families.
To keep already distressed residents from going hungry, the Sonoma County Human Services Department Economic Assistance Division got approval for temporary Disaster CalFresh benefits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). The benefit is a one-time, emergency allotment of funds on Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, which can be used like a debit card at participating food outlets and farmers markets.
The total additional food benefits gained for Sonoma County residents was $1,449,854.
“During the fires, the County focused on helping people affected by the fires in every way we could,” says Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Shirlee Zane. “We immediately sought emergency support from State and Federal programs, such as CalFresh, to meet people’s basic needs for food, housing, financial help and more.”
From October 25 to the November 1 filing deadline, the Economic Assistance Division took 2,118 applications for Disaster CalFresh, providing households new to CalFresh with benefits totaling $522,389. Also through the emergency program, some affected households already receiving regular CalFresh, Medi-Cal or CalWORKs benefits received an additional benefit supplement, added automatically or by Economic Assistance staff. The total Disaster CalFresh supplement to ongoing beneficiaries was $927,465.
“The Economic Assistance staff, including some who’d lost homes, went above and beyond to ensure that everyone who came in or called got needed benefits,” says Economic Assistance Division Director Kim Seamans. “Our main Santa Rosa building was closed for several days. Instead, staff worked in our downtown office and set up computers at the Local Assistance Center to process both Disaster CalFresh and regular CalFresh. Since the Disaster CalFresh application period was short, we decided to stay open on the weekend so we could meet more people’s needs.”
Disaster CalFresh benefits were for residents, regardless of immigration status, who lived or worked in Sonoma County and were affected by the fires, including those who lost homes or businesses, income, food because of power outages or have disaster-related expenses such as temporary housing or evacuation costs. Income limits were also temporarily lowered under Disaster CalFresh from regular CalFresh levels to make more households eligible. The last disbursement of the Disaster CalFresh benefit funds was November 14, 2017.
For information about CalFresh or Medi-Cal benefits, call Economic Assistance (877) 699-6868. Residents may apply for regular CalFresh during County business hours or online at www.mybenefitscalwin.org/.