Government shutdown won’t halt CalFresh — at least through December
Millions of low-income households will continue receiving welfare benefits through November and December, even if there is a federal government shutdown.
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Jacqueline Benitez, a CalFresh recipient, at Ramona Park in Long Beach on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

Dear California Reader,

Millions of low-income households will continue receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits through November and December, even if there is a federal government shutdown, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said this week. 

More than 2.9 million California households receive federal food assistance through CalFresh, CalMatters’ Justo Robles reports. Twenty percent of Californians are food insecure — meaning they lack reliable access to healthy food.

Jacqueline Benitez is one of them. She earns about $1,300 a month working part-time as a preschool teacher in Los Angeles County. The 22-year-old also is a junior at California State University, Long Beach.

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Monthly rent for her Bellflower apartment recently jumped $200, she said, not leaving much for food. Now more than ever, Benitez said, her $88 monthly CalFresh benefit is essential. Eating properly helps her focus while studying and working with children. 

“With $88 I try to buy things that will last, like rice, pasta, popcorn chicken,” she said. 

“Without CalFresh benefits, I would be eating half a burger and leave the rest of it for tomorrow.” 

In prior threats of federal shutdowns, welfare benefits were guaranteed only through September, the end of the government’s fiscal year. A federal shutdown would risk more than 40 million people’s access to food and nutrition assistance programs nationwide. 

But Benitez and 4.8 million other Californians continued receiving CalFresh in October, thanks to a recent agreement by the USDA and the federal Office of Management and Budget. 

The agreement stemmed from a September class action lawsuit anti-poverty advocates filed in federal court in San Francisco which argued that since the federal government is always a month ahead in appropriating money for welfare payments, it could afford to keep those payments going at least until the end of October. 

“People’s access to food is not a game, but Congress is treating it like it is,” said Monika Lee, a spokesperson for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, one of the groups that filed the suit. “Every month will be a battle unless we can get this litigation to help.” 

President Joe Biden recently signed a compromise bill extending federal spending in general through November 17. As a result, welfare benefits will continue at least through December. 

Meanwhile in Bellflower, Benitez had worried she would be unable to afford three meals a day in November and December. This latest announcement means CalFresh will continue helping her to survive, she said. 

“Now I will be able to celebrate Christmas with my family and make sure I cook a nice meal for them,” said Benitez. 


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  • For the record: Last week’s newsletter noted Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 309, which would have launched three “social housing” pilot projects. The idea isn’t dead, though. Newsom approved Senate Bill 555, which directs the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to study possible funding and land options for social housing. And a two-year bill, SB 584, would tax short-term rentals to fund “laborforce housing,”  which, similar to social housing, would mix lower- and moderate-income tenants. 
  • Overdosing at home. Three people overdose on drugs every week in San Francisco’s supportive housing system, the San Francisco Standard reports. Using medical examiner’s reports, the publication counted 85 OD deaths from January to July 31. Critics of “housing first” policies say this is what happens when you move addicts from the streets or shelters straight into isolated housing.  
An employee stocks refrigerated items at a Grocery Outlet store in Pleasanton on Sept. 15, 2022. Photo by Terry Chea, AP Photo
  • Grocery merger fears. CalMatters’ Alejandra Reyes-Velarde reports a proposed merger of Albertsons and Kroger chains has touched off fears of layoffs, especially in Southern California where both chains operate stores close to each other. Newsom just vetoed a bill that would have made grocery chains pay a week’s pay per year of service to workers laid off after a merger. 
  • Recall rights. California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower has ordered the Hyatt Regency Long Beach to pay nearly $4.8 million to 25 restaurant servers, bartenders, housekeepers, cashiers and stewards, The Los Angeles Times reports. She said the hotel laid them off during COVID shutdowns but failed to recall them when it was hiring again. Some workers had 24 years’ experience, she said. Newsom just extended California’s right to recall law, which prevents businesses from using the pandemic as an excuse to replace older hospitality and service workers.
  • Child care relief. California used $5 billion in federal relief to help childcare providers stay open during the pandemic, LAist notes. That funding expired Sept. 30, but the state just negotiated a new contract with Child Care Providers United, which represents 40,000 home childcares, setting a 20% rate increase beginning in January.


  • Suburban poor. With nearly half of Americans living in suburbs, poverty there has grown since the Great Recession. In 2022, one in 10 suburbanites lived in poverty, compared to one in six in major cities. San Francisco’s suburbs saw double-digit poverty growth, the Brookings Institution reports
  • Junk fees. Research from the Federal Reserve found Black and Latino business owners were twice as likely as white business owners to seek high-cost, less-transparent financing. Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed SB 666 — authored by state Sen. Dave Min — to restrict financing companies from charging them “junk fees” or hidden fees, which consumer groups said were predatory.
  • Untapped college money. A year after California launched a college savings account plan called CalKIDS to address educational inequity, only 6% of accounts have been claimed, reports The Sacramento Observer. CalKIDS automatically enrolls students from lower-income backgrounds and children born after July 1, 2022, and deposits $175 to accrue over time. Parents have to register to access the funds, which can be used for  college, trade schools and career training.
  • Taxation, no representation. Santa Ana’s city council asked city staff to devise a ballot measure amending the city charter to allow noncitizen voting, LAist reports. Nearly a quarter of the city’s population are immigrants, says Carlos Perea, a councilmember and DACA recipient. “We contribute to the city; we pay taxes,” he noted. So far an appellate court has upheld ordinances in San Francisco and Oakland allowing noncitizens to vote in school board elections. 
  • Digital divide promises. CalMatter’s Alejandra Reyes-Velarde reports that after years of planning a broadband system to bridge California’s digital divide, state officials deprioritized some low-income areas due to unexpected costs. Newsom says he’s committed to funding the entire network, but advocates are skeptical considering the state’s $30 billion budget deficit.

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California Divide is a statewide media collaboration to raise awareness and engagement about poverty and income inequality through in-depth, local storytelling and community outreach. The project is based at CalMatters in Sacramento with a team of reporters deployed at news organizations throughout California.

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