Last week, UCSB students receiving benefits from CalFresh, a federal program that provides food aid to low-income students, received their February benefits early.
An email sent out on Jan. 16 on behalf of the university’s CalFresh Team stated that the early distribution was due to the government shutdown. The email also advised students to budget accordingly as CalFresh funds could be suspended indefinitely due to the ongoing disagreement over the federal budget.
But with the government’s reopening last Friday, students can expect to receive benefits again in March.
“Now that the government is no longer shut down, [CalFresh] benefit allocations should be on track for March,” wrote Melissa Fontaine, UCSB’s food security coordinator, in an email to The Bottom Line. “We anticipate some students will be affected by the government shutdown, but we are trying to be as proactive as possible to avoid hardships.”
Though CalFresh is anticipated to resume as scheduled in March, students were informed they would not be receiving any more benefits for the month of February after the early distribution. In anticipation of the possibility of future complications because of the early allocation, food security resources on campus such as the Associated Students (A.S.) Food Bank have made preparations.
“The food bank is trying to buy more food to account for the lack of CalFresh benefits right now,” said Katherine McGuire, the publicity chair for the A.S. Food Bank.
CalFresh, known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), provides monthly food stipends to individuals or families in need. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, over 42 million people across the nation received benefits in 2017, making it the largest program in the country to combat food insecurity.
According to Fontaine, nearly 50 percent of the university’s undergraduate population (approximately 22,000 students) has experienced very low to low food security, meaning individuals are choosing less nutritious, lower quality meals or skipping meals altogether due to a lack of resources.
Students like Hilary, a junior at UCSB who asked to remain anonymous, have come to rely on their CalFresh benefits to remain food secure.
“It’s given me the opportunity to have a balanced diet,” she said. “I used to only eat once or twice a day but now I can have more.”
But CalFresh assistance is not always enough to sustain a person for the month, according to Hilary. She still utilizes other on-campus resources such as food pantries in order to meet her daily nutritional needs.
According to Danielle Kemp, the dietitian, purchasing, and systems manager for UCSB’s Housing, Dining, and Auxiliary Enterprises (HDAE), the types of food offered at the university’s food banks and pantries, such as the newly opened Miramar Food Pantry at the Sierra Madre Villages, are intended to allow students to create snacks or complete meals.
While the multiple food banks and pantries along with financial assistance are able to help cope with food insecurity on campus, Fontaine notes that they do not address the issue directly, something she wishes to do in the future.
“These programs meet today’s need but do not necessarily decrease the need of students moving forward,” she wrote. “Through education and structural solutions, we hope to reduce the number of insecure students in the future.”
For now, students are encouraged to do their research about food security resources and utilize all that is available to them.
“A lot of people don’t know that the food bank is open on Fridays so a lot of people aren’t getting access to that,” McGuire said. “Any resource that’s available should be taken advantage of.”