COVID-19 and Food Assistance by the Numbers

At Code for America, we rely on data to ensure that all of our decisions are informed by real evidence about the people who use our services. It’s important that the data is supplemented by qualitative research in order to surface insights into what those people are experiencing, and to keep their full human experience from being reduced to a data point. In the words of data scientist Gwen Rino, “Qualitative research provides ground truth for the numbers.”

But sometimes, the numbers themselves speak volumes.

California residents have now been under orders to stay at home for over a month, and those same orders have caused devastating job loss across the state—and the country. In that time, people have turned to social safety net programs like SNAP in record numbers. Since COVID-19 hit California, we have been closely tracking GetCalFresh application data in order to share key learnings and make recommendations for states to get help to those in need. The numbers below reflect not only a change in sheer application volume, but the circumstances of people who need help and the ways they are reaching out to government.

Line graph showing weekly increases in GetCalFresh application volume hovering around 8,000 per week to a peak of nearly 60,000 per week
Since the pandemic hit California, GetCalFresh has experienced record-breaking application volume.
Bar graph showing change in daily average and total application volume since stay-at-home orders went into effect in California. Before the orders, we averaged 2,100 applications per day; now, we're averaging 8,970 applications per day. In the six weeks before the orders went into effect, we processed 60,891 applications. In the six weeks after, we processed 278,076 applications.
Since stay-at-home orders went into effect across the state, application volume has quadrupled.
Graph showing that, over over the past ten weeks, GetCalFresh has shifted from being the source of less than one-third to more than two-thirds of all CalFresh applications in the state.
With social services offices closed throughout the state, digital access is critical. GetCalFresh has become the entry point for nearly two-thirds of all SNAP applications statewide.
Before the stay-at-home orders, 15.4% of all GetCalFresh applicants reported job loss in the last 30 days. Now, it's jumped to 49.7%.
We’ve also seen a huge increase in the number of applicants reporting that they’ve lost their job in the past 30 days.
The percentage of GetCalFresh applications from first-time applicants has jumped from 46.9% to 62.8%.
And many more people are turning to CalFresh for help for the first time.

We’re continuing to monitor GetCalFresh application data closely as the situation changes from week to week. A crisis of this magnitude has made our work feel more urgent than ever before, but fundamentally it stays the same: We put people at the center of our work. We use a combination of quantitative data and qualitative research to gain a deep understanding of client needs. And from those needs we make product improvements, advocate for important policy changes, and do everything we can to ensure that government services work for the people who need them most.

For recommendations on how to serve safety net clients with empathy and dignity, explore our Blueprint for a Human-Centered Safety Net

Related stories