The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) represents a critical source of assistance for low-income households. California’s SNAP program, i.e., CalFresh, has consistently had one of the lowest participation rates in the nation, with only 63% of eligible participants receiving food assistance in 2012, compared with 83% nationwide (FRAC). There are numerous barriers to SNAP participation, including a burdensome application, verification, and re-certification process, and stigma. Eligible immigrant groups also face language barriers and concerns about the impact on future immigration status including implications for becoming a “public charge.” Further, first person accounts of CalFresh outreach providers suggest that women may start the enrollment process but not complete it due to opposition from their male partners concerned about stigma, being required to pay back the cash value of benefits, and being rendered ineligible for future citizenship. Some women have also reported that their husbands refuse to provide them with required documentation such as pay stubs, effectively impeding the enrollment process.
Method and Findings
This study used surveys of CalFresh outreach workers and in-depth interviews and focus groups of potential CalFresh enrollees to understand barriers to program uptake among eligible immigrants in California. In CalFresh regions serving primarily Spanish-speaking clients, outreach workers reported approximately 17% of women discontinued their applications due to opposition from their male partners. In-depth interviews and focus groups with Latinx men and women also found that fear and anti-immigrant sentiments, particularly related to immigration and impacts on children was cited by both women and men as the principal reason behind the decision to forego CalFresh. While these concerns pre-date the current presidential administration, several respondents reported that they left CalFresh following the 2016 elections.
Conclusion and Implications
The results of the study suggest fear of future impact on immigration status may suppress enrollment in CalFresh in the nation’s most populous state. As a result, many families and children are at risk of food insecurity and poor health and educational outcomes even when they are eligible for this important income support program. Additional intervention is needed to reduce the intra-household and societal barriers to food security and well-being among immigrant families in the United States.