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Pushed out by paperwork: Why eligible Californians leave CalFresh

POLICY BRIEF: Pushed out by paperwork: Why eligible Californians leave CalFresh PDF

WORKING PAPER: Targeting, Screening, and Retention: Evidence from California’s Food Stamps Program PDF

PRESS RELEASE: New report finds more than half of California households leaving CalFresh program are still eligible

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps (or CalFresh in California), is a critical part of the nation’s safety net. Though SNAP provides important assistance to families during periods of economic insecurity, not all eligible households participate. One reason enrollment may be low is because eligible households leave the program too early.

In this brief, we present evidence that paperwork burdens are causing otherwise eligible households to drop out of CalFresh, an especially troubling finding given California’s current economic situation. Using a conservative estimate, CPL found that more than half (55%) of households leaving the CalFresh program are still likely eligible for the program when they leave. CPL also found that people are six times more likely to leave CalFresh in the month that they have to recertify their eligibility. The policy brief is based on the accompanying working paper.

Photo credit: Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Select Media Coverage

The Atlantic: The Time Tax: Why is so much American bureaucracy left to average citizens? (July 27, 2021)

City News Service: County supervisors take steps to remove barriers to aid (April 8, 2021)

KPBS: Burdensome Rules Keep Eligible San Diegans from Receiving Food Stamps (March 30, 2021)

The Imprint: Paperwork Problems Keep Hungry Californians from Getting Food Stamps (Feb 11, 2021)

The Daily Californian: Editorial: CalFresh must be made more accessible, less prohibitive for Californians (February 2, 2021)

KCRW: Segment on the new research (February 2, 2021)

Capital Public Radio: Interview with Matt Unrath about the research (February 1, 2021)

The Daily Californian: 500,000 eligible households leave CalFresh each year, policy brief finds (January 29, 2021)


A table showing estimated total exits for every county from 2016-2019 and the share who appeared eligible to remain in CalFresh is available here. The table below provides the average for each county from 2016-2019, and the share who appeared eligible to remain in CalFresh:

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