Delivering the right service, at the right time

Helping counties connect residents with food assistance in California

The nation’s biggest state is one of the hungriest. More than seven million Californians are currently eligible for food assistance and more than 25% are not receiving the benefit. The reasons for the CalFresh participation gap vary. We’ve heard that it can be difficult to navigate the application process, locate important documents, or overcome the stigma associated with receiving government assistance. Many people simply don’t apply in the first place, failing to realize they’re eligible for CalFresh.

Closing the participation gap

Code for America is the first digital outreach provider for food assistance in the country, and is providing a new way to connect residences with CalFresh: via their mobile devices. More than 40% of Google searches for food assistance occurs on a mobile device and we’re working to reach residents where they are.

As the GetCalFresh partnerships manager, I’m helping bring GetCalFresh to counties in California and working collaboratively with our government partners to improve the client’s experience.

GetCalFresh enables residents to check their eligibility for food assistance and apply in under 10 minutes from their mobile device. GetCalFresh provides an alternative to in-person assistance and supports residents via text or email to ensure they complete each critical step after an application is submitted, like scheduling an interview with eligibility staff or uploading verification documents.

Because GetCalFresh works on top of existing technology, no technical integration from the counties are needed, and the county has a direct line to our team in case any issues do arise. So far, we’ve helped more than 34,000 people gain access to food assistance and the momentum is growing.

Expanding GetCalFresh in California

California’s public services are county administered, meaning food assistance programs may slightly differ in the way that they’re operated and delivered depending where you live. That’s why I work with counties to understand their business processes and outreach priorities. GetCalFresh is another tool for counties to reach hard-to-access populations like those living in rural areas or only have access to the internet on their phone.

Residents in 15 counties (and counting) can use GetCalFresh. Our team provides real-time data to provide deeper insights about the county’s population and answers questions like: what’s the average household size applying? Is there specific age range of individuals applying? What type of device are users applying from? Are online applications increasing? Is GetCalFresh driving an increase in the approval rate? We work closely with counties to share what’s working and test new approaches to improve outcomes.

Right service, right time

Bringing GetCalFresh to a county and launching an online outreach campaign isn’t enough to close the participation gap. Our research has shown that whenpeople apply for food assistance is just as important as the tool they use to apply. Take San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) for example.

San Diego HHSA took a step back and reviewed benefit programs that have similar eligibility requirements to CalFresh (i.e. income and household size). They recognized that residents applying for Medi-Cal are likely to also be eligible for food assistance and set out to test ways to prompt recent Medi-Cal applicants to apply for CalFresh.

To help them do this, we created a custom GetCalFresh URL to track outcomes for a low-cost texting experiment. Within a week, individuals who applied for Medi-Cal received a text (see image below) encouraging them to check their CalFresh eligibility.

Early results are promising. More than 20% of GetCalFresh applications submitted in San Diego County last month were a direct result of the text campaign. The San Diego HHSA pilot shows that we need to know not only where to meet eligible people, but also when to connect them with the right service.

Our team is testing similar campaigns to connect people applying for Medi-Cal or receiving WIC in other California counties with CalFresh benefits.

Join us

Meeting CalFresh applicants where they are is an essential avenue to connect individuals and their families to food assistance. But there’s more we can do, and we need your help.

  • Are you a government official interested in bringing GetCalFresh to your county? Email to learn more.
  • Want to know if you are eligible for CalFresh? Use GetCalFresh to check.
  • Interested in joining the civic tech movement? Visit Code for America’s job board.