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Food stamp applications on the rise | 4 things to know about CalFresh

The coronavirus has people worried about a lot of things, but, if you qualify for CalFresh, buying food doesn't have to be one of them.

CALIFORNIA, USA — There's arguably no time more suited than now to see whether you qualify for CalFresh.

The coronavirus triggered economic uncertainty, shuttered businesses, and now has California processing about 1,000,000 million unemployment claims.

"With everything going on today, the last thing people should be worrying about is the ability to provide nutritious meals for themselves and their families," said Maggie Bauer, Human Services Supervisor with Sacramento County.

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Over at the local CalFresh office, the uptick in applications is evident. In the third week of March, CalFresh applications jumped by more than 20,000 statewide as compared to the same week in 2019. 

  • Third week of March, 2019: 34,882 applications
  • Third week of March, 2020: 55,624 applications

Jason Montiel, CalFresh spokesperson, told ABC10 that the 2020 numbers were preliminary and would likely grow as more applications are processed.

Bauer said there's been an increase at the county level as well, with expectations that more could come.

For those looking for help, here what you need to know about CalFresh.

Find out if you're qualified online

If you just want to ease into the idea of applying for CalFresh and see if you'd even qualify, you can do that without even talking to anyone. 

Bauer says MyBenefitsCalWin.org is a good resource for people who want to get a feel of what they'd be getting into, if they apply.

You can even do your application online, either at MybenefitisCalWin.org or GetCalFresh.org.

If you prefer to have someone else on the other line, you can call your local county office to apply.

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Where can you use CalFresh benefits

If the store sells food, the odds are they'll accept CalFresh benefits. Bauer says a majority of places take it.

"That's anywhere from a corner store to Costco, even to the farmers markets," said Bauer. 

The store will most likely have a sign that shows they accept CalFresh. Benefits come in an Electronic Benefits Transfer card [EBT], and work like an ATM card.

RELATED: Here are the grocery stores helping seniors stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic

You can also use your CalFresh benefits to buy a restaurant meal in some counties. Only handful of counties and restaurants are in this program and there are eligibility requirements. In Sacramento County, for example, you have to be disabled, homeless, or over the age of 60.

Unemployment and CalFresh

With the coronavirus triggering business closures and layoffs, people might find themselves on unemployment and wondering whether they still qualify for CalFresh.

In that instance, there's no uniform answer. You can be eligible for both at the same time, but there are a number of factors to consider. 

"I would encourage anybody who thinks they may be eligible to submit an application, and then, at that point, we'd process those applications and look at the unique situation of the household," said Bauer.

In other words, the best path forward is to apply and talk to your local CalFresh worker to guide you through it.

"There shouldn't be any stigma right now"

Even if food stamps carry a stigma, the coronavirus has largely changed the way people are living. Bauer says there is no shame getting help if you need it.

"There shouldn't be any stigma right now," Bauer said. "I think that anything that people need to help, [or] can get to help them is just important to be able to access."

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