CalFresh Take-up and Recertification

A federal rule requiring Californians to re-verify their eligibility for CalFresh benefits every six months is likely pushing eligible families out of CalFresh.

Photo credit: Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters


In times of economic distress, safety net programs play a critical role in supporting California’s families. In June 2020, 4.84 million Californians were enrolled in CalFresh.

Yet even before the COVID-19 crisis and ensuing economic downturn, many households eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, or CalFresh in California, did not enroll. In 2018 only 70% of eligible families participated in CalFresh, one of the lowest take-up rates in the country. With many households now facing extended periods of unemployment, job loss, and serious illness, ensuring access to these supports is paramount. Keeping enrolled households  in the program as long as they are eligible is also critical to closing California’s take-up gap. At regular intervals, CalFresh recipients must recertify their eligibility by providing income documentation. The recertification process for CalFresh may be a key point where eligible households leave the program. 

Research Project

CPL analyzed the role that verification requirements play in the high percentage of CalFresh participants who leave the program.  Using state administrative data, CPL identified when CalFresh households leave the program, whether these drop-offs coincide with recertification points, and what percentage of those households are actually still eligible for CalFresh.

Research Team

Matt Unrath (Principal Investigator)


More than half (55%) of California households who leave CalFresh every year appear to still be eligible for the program. People are six times as likely to leave CalFresh during recertification months. CPL’s research suggests that one of the most effective ways to address this problem would be for the federal government to extend the length of time between certification periods. Follow-up work will document recertification practices to study whether variations in practices lead to differences in CalFresh take-up.

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