CalFresh Benefits

CalFresh Eligibility Guide (2021)

CalFresh is a benefits assistance program that helps limited-income individuals and families buy the food they need in order to stay healthy. If you want to apply for California Food Stamps or CalFresh, you have to make sure you qualify and are eligible. There are strict eligibility requirements that you must follow to apply for Food Assistance. In this article, we will discuss the CalFresh Eligibility guidelines for 2021 and what you need to qualify.

Monthly benefits are provided on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card that works just like a bank debit card to buy food at most grocery stores and markets (including some Farmers Markets).

Before we get into CalFresh eligibility guidelines, first, we will explain what CalFresh is about and who is eligible to apply.

Next, we will explain each of the eligibility guidelines in detail, including the income limit, which is the most important criteria.

Also, we will walk you through how much you are likely to receive if you are approved for CalFresh.

Finally, we will answer the most frequently asked questions, including how long the process takes.

This post will cover:

  • What is CalFresh?
  • Who is Eligible for CalFresh?
  • CalFresh Eligibility Guidelines
  • CalFresh Income Limits – 2021
  • How Much in CalFresh will I Get?
  • How do I apply for CalFresh Benefits?
  • CalFresh Eligibility FAQs

What is CalFresh?

The CalFresh Program is California’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP and formerly known as Food Stamps.

CalFresh assists low-income individuals and households to purchase nutritional food.

Eligibility for CalFresh, as well as the benefit amount, is based on your household’s size and income level.

A household can be one person, a group of people, a family, or any combination of people that buy and prepare food together.

Children living with their parents are considered part of the same household until age 22.

Furthermore, many legal non-citizens are eligible for CalFresh benefits.

Also, even if you can’t get CalFresh benefits for yourself, other members of your household may be eligible.

Who is Eligible for CalFresh?

Here are the categories of people who live in the state of California that are eligible for CalFresh:

  • Any California household or individual (including homeless) with low or no income
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients
  • CalWORKS or CAAP applicants can apply for CalFresh as part of their application process for those services
  • Students of higher education who meet eligibility requirements
  • Legal permanent residents and qualified immigrants

CalFresh Eligibility Guidelines for 2021

Here’s what you need to apply for CalFresh:

Proof of Identity

Applicants must provide proof of their identity to show that they are the person they claim to be.

Identity may be verified through a variety of documents, including but not limited to,

  • Department of Motor Vehicles ID or driver’s license
  • Work or school ID
  • Voter registration card
  • Birth certificate

Social Security Numbers

Individuals, including children, applying for CalFresh benefits, must either provide a Social Security number or proof they have applied for a Social Security Number.

Household members that are not eligible for CalFresh do not have to provide or apply for a Social Security Number.

Residency

The applicant must live in the state of California and must apply in their county of residence.

Persons without a permanent residence or a fixed mailing address can get CalFresh as long as they can prove residency in a county.

Work Rules

There are special rules for able-bodied adults without dependent children.

If you are an able-bodied adult without dependents and are between the ages of 18 and 50, here’s what you need to know:

You must register for work or be working at least 20 hours per week or an average of 80 hours per month to receive CalFresh benefits.

Citizenship Status

U. S. citizens and many non-citizens are eligible for CalFresh.

Furthermore, even if some members of the household are not eligible, those who are may be able to get CalFresh benefits.

Eligibility for Aged and Disabled Households

There are special rules for households with seniors and people who are disabled.

If you are age 60 or over, or you are receiving Social Security Disability or Medi-Cal due to a disability, or a full VA pension here’s what you need to know.

You may be eligible with income over the regular limits if you pay very high rent and utilities and/or have medical expenses over $35 per month.

However, this must be computed on a case-by-case basis.

Asset Limits

Your household assets must fall below certain limits.

Households without a member who is elderly or has a disability must have assets of $2,250 or less.

However, households with an elderly or has a disabled person must have assets of $3,500 or less.

Income and Deductions

To be eligible for CalFresh, your monthly gross income (before payroll deductions) must be the same or below the amount listed in the chart for your household size.

CalFresh counts most types of income to determine if a household is eligible.

Most households must have a total gross monthly income less than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty level, to be potentially eligible for CalFresh.

For CalFresh purposes, gross monthly income means a household’s total income before excluding allowable deductions.

Also, deductions are expenses that are subtracted from the household’s monthly gross income to arrive at the net monthly income.

CalFresh Income Limits – 2021

Most households must have a total gross monthly income less than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty level, to be potentially eligible for CalFresh.

Number of People in Household Maximum Gross Income Allowed – 200% Federal Poverty Level Maximum Net Income Allowed – 100% Federal Poverty Level
1 $2,128 $1,064
2 $2,874 $1,437
3 $3,620 $1,810
4 $4,368 $2,184
5 $5,114 $2,557
6 $5,860 $2,930
7 $6,608 $3,304
8 $7,354 $3,677
Each Additional Member +748 +377

CalFresh Income Deductions

Deductions are allowable expenses that can be subtracted from the household’s monthly gross income to arrive at the net monthly income.

The net monthly income is used to determine eligibility and the amount of CalFresh benefits that will be received monthly.

CalFresh deductions include:

  • 20% deduction from earned income,
  • A standard deduction of $167 for households with 1-3 members,
  • Standard deduction of $181 for a household with 4 members,
  • A standard deduction of $212 for a household with 5 members,
  • Standard deduction of $243 for a household with 6 or more members,
  • Cost of child care when needed to work, seek work or attend training for work,
  • Medical expenses exceeding $35 for elderly or disabled household members,
  • Court-ordered child support payments paid to non-household members, and
  • A portion of shelter (rent or mortgage) and utility costs

How Much in CalFresh will I Get?

If you are approved for food stamps in California, how much in benefits you get partly depends on the number of people in your household.

The table below shows you the maximum amount of benefits you may receive if you are approved, based on the number of people in your household.

Household Size CalFresh Maximum Monthly Allotment
1 $204
2 $374
3 $535
4 $680
5 $807
6 $696
7 $1,071
8 $1,224
Each Additional Member +153

Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD)

An ABAWD is a person who is applying for, or receiving, CalFresh benefits and is between the ages of 18 and 49, is able to work, and does not have dependent children.

ABAWDs are limited to receiving three months of CalFresh benefits within a 36-month period unless he/she:

  • Is exempt from the ABAWD Time Limit;
  • Satisfies the CalFresh work requirement;
  • Qualifies for an additional three consecutive month period of eligibility;
  • Receives a discretionary exemption; or
  • Lives in a county or area with a waiver of the ABAWD Time Limit.

How do I apply for CalFresh Benefits?

There are three ways you can apply for CalFresh benefits:

Option 1 – Online

You can apply online at www.GetCalFresh.org.

Option 2 – By Mail or Phone

You can call your county Department of Social Services (CDSS) Office to apply by phone or have an application mailed to you.

To locate a CDSS office near you, click here.

You can complete the paper application and return it to your county CDSS office for processing.

Option 3 – In Person

Apply at your county Department of Social Services (CDSS) office.

To locate a CDSS office near you, click here.

After you submit an application, you will be contacted by an eligibility worker to complete the application process.

CalFresh Guide by County

For your convenience, we have created a detailed guide about CalFresh for select counties.

Click on the county name below to see the complete guide.

CalFresh Eligibility FAQs

Here are the most frequently asked questions about CalFresh benefits:

What do I need for my CalFresh interview?

To avoid delays in processing your application, bring proof of the following with you to your interview.

However, keep your interview even if you do not have the proof. The County may be able to help if you need help getting proof.

During the interview, the County will go over the information on the application.

In addition, you will be asked questions to see if you can get CalFresh benefits and the amount of benefits you qualify for.

Proof Needed to Get Benefits

Identification – Driver’s License, State ID card, passport

Where you live
– a rental agreement, a current bill with your address listed

Social Security Numbers
– Social security card or proof that you have applied for one

Money in the bank for all the people in your household – recent bank statements

Earned income of everyone in your household for the past 30 days – recent pay stubs, a work statement from an employer

NOTE: If you are self-employed, you need to bring income and
expense or tax records.

Unearned income – Unemployment benefits, SSI, Social Security, Veteran’s benefits, child support, worker’s compensation, school grants or loans, rental income, etc.

Lawful immigration status ONLY for noncitizens applying for benefits – an Alien Registration Card, visa

NOTE: Certain noncitizens applying for immigration status based on domestic violence, prosecution or trafficking may not need this proof.

Furthermore, they also may not need a Social Security Number.

How Long Can I Receive CalFresh Benefits?

There is no time limit for how long eligible individuals and families can receive assistance.

However, in order to continue to receive benefits, CalFresh recipients are required to fill out semi-annual reports and annual recertifications.

If I am denied CalFresh, can I ask why?

Yes. Once a decision has been made on your CalFresh application, you will be notified of the decision by mail.

If your application is denied, you will be notified in writing of your denial.

If you have any questions about the decision, you may call your caseworker.

However, if you think there is a mistake, ask to speak to a supervisor.

Also, if you do not agree with the explanation from the supervisor, you may request a “State Hearing.”

State Hearings are free but you must ask for one within 90 days of the date you were denied.

How soon will I receive my CalFresh benefits?

You will receive CalFresh benefits within 30 days of submitting your application.

However, all required information has been provided and verified before a decision can be made on our application.

What if I need CalFresh benefits right away?

If you need food assistance right away, you may qualify for Expedited Services and receive your CalFresh benefits within three (3) days.

To qualify for Expedited Services, you must provide identification and meet all other CalFresh requirements in addition to one of the following:

  • Your household makes less than $150 in monthly income and has less than $100 on hand right now.
  • Your household’s combined monthly income and money on hand are less than your household’s combined monthly rent and utilities.
  • You are a migrant or seasonal farmworker and have less than $100 on hand right now.

I am not a U.S. citizen. Can I get CalFresh? Can my children?

You might get CalFresh if you are a legal immigrant.

Your caseworker worker will let you know if you qualify.

However, even if you are not eligible for CalFresh due to immigration status, your legal immigrant or citizen children may qualify.

Can I get CalFresh if I am homeless?

If you are homeless and applying for CalFresh, let the County caseworker know right away.

That way, they can help you figure out an address to use to accept your application and get notices from the County regarding your case.

For CalFresh, homeless means you are:
A. Staying in a supervised shelter, halfway house, or similar place.
B. Staying at the home of another person or family for no more than 90 days straight.
C. Sleeping in a place not designed for, or normally used as, a place to sleep (e.g., a hallway, a bus station,
a lobby, or similar places).

Can I get CalFresh if I am a College Student?

College students (age 18 to 49) enrolled half-time or more must meet one of the following criteria on the date of the CalFresh interview:

  • Working an average of 20 hours per week or 80 hours per month.
  • Approved for state or federally funded work-study for the current term or enrolled in WIOA, EOPS, or other programs that increase employability.
  • Have parental responsibility for a child under age 6.
  • Enrolled full-time and a single parent with responsibility for a dependent child under age 12.

What can I buy with CalFresh benefits?

CalFresh can be used to purchase any food EXCEPT heated foods.

In addition, non-food items like tobacco, alcohol, pet food, and toiletries are not able to be purchased with CalFresh.

Here’s a more comprehensive list of permissible and non-permissible items.

Foods You Can Buy With CalFresh EBT Card

  • Bread and cereals
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meats, fish, and poultry
  • Dairy products
  • Seeds and plants to grow and produce food for the household to eat

What you CANNOT buy with CalFresh EBT Card

  • Hot foods ready to eat,
  • Food intended to be heated in the store,
  • Lunch counter items or foods to be eaten in the store,
  • Vitamins or medicines,
  • Pet foods,
  • soaps and paper products,
  • household supplies,
  • Alcoholic beverages, or
  • Tobacco.

For more details on what you can and cannot buy, see our list of eligible CalFresh foods.

Restaurant Meal Program

If there is anyone in your home who is over 60, has a disability, or if you are homeless, you may be able to use your CalFresh at participating restaurants.

This is part of the Restaurant Meals Program. For more information about this program or to find a participating restaurant near you, click here.

CalFresh Eligibility Summary

Here’s the bottom line:

CalFresh helps limited-income individuals and families buy the food they need in order to stay healthy.

Eligibility for CalFresh, as well as the benefit amount, is based on your household’s size and income level.

U. S. citizens and many non-citizens are eligible for CalFresh.

There are three ways you can apply for CalFresh benefits: Online, In Person, and By Phone.

You will receive benefits within 30 days of submitting your application.

ABAWDs are limited to receiving three months of CalFresh benefits within a 36-month period unless they meet work requirements.

Questions?

We hope this post on CalFresh Eligibility was helpful.

If you have further questions about CalFresh or California EBT Card, please let us know in the comments section below.

Be sure to check out our other articles about CalFresh and CalFresh EBT, including:
Emergency Allotment for CalFresh – Extra Food Stamps for 2021
Restaurants that Take CalFresh in California
How to Apply for California P-EBT
California P-EBT Extension for 2020/2021
CalFresh Account Login Help
CalFresh Income Limits for 2021

Kwame Kuadey

Kwame Kuadey writes about personal finance and the social safety net. His career started in banking but he caught the entrepreneurial bug and has spent the last decade building successful businesses, including an Inc. 500 Company. Kwame believes everyone has the power to improve their quality of life by seeking knowledge and taking action. In 2012, Kwame founded Empower Media to help low-income households improve their financial situation. His expertise is in topics relevant to low-income households, including government benefits and assistance, banking products, access to credit, plus tools & resources to help reduce income volatility and build wealth. Kwame has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Washington Post, ABC, and NPR.

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