Due to a planned reduction in food benefits available from Los Angeles County to those most in need, many low-income Latinos and families will face what is being called a hunger cliff. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government temporarily increased its CalFresh food assistance program benefits. But these extra benefits ended on March 26, three years after the pandemic started.
CALÓ NEWS spoke to experts about what the end of extra food benefits will mean to Latinos.
The American Heart Association in Los Angeles, is concerned with the pending hunger cliff that they are expecting as CalFresh takes a big cut. CalFresh is the state’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. It is the largest food program in California, which provides an essential hunger safety net for low-income residents.
CalFresh is federally mandated, and in California, it is state-supervised and county-operated, according to the Department of Social Services. The program helps families and individuals afford nutritious food, including more fruit and vegetables, by stretching food budgets.
As the pandemic emergency funding has ended, it is estimated by the American Heart Association that about 950,000 residents in LA County households will soon be impacted. For the average family, the loss will be about $95 a month in CalFresh benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In households with disabled people or seniors, the loss could be as extreme as $258 a month. Without the Emergency Allotment, the benefit amount is based on income and allowable expenses.
DR. Gloria Monsalve, San Fernando Valley, Family physician, She/Her/, Latina
Dr. Gloria Monsalve is a bilingual family physician, an advocate for patients and a professional member of the American Heart Association. She specializes in treating low-income and underserved populations in the San Fernando Valley. She received her medical degree from Colombia’s Industrial University of Santander Faculty of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 15 years.
Monsalve said that it was her concern for the young adults that she was caring for that prompted her to join the American Heart Association. Many of the young adults she treats suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
Monsalve said that she believes education is the most powerful tool needed to make a difference. That’s what motivated her to join forces with the American Heart Association. “They do a good job in providing education with good resources and good medical evidence,” Monsalve said.
The CalFresh program is designed for patients who struggle to pay grocery bills for food. Monsalve said that there is a process to qualify for the program and that’s all based on a set of questions, such as “Were you able to get a hold of food?”, “What is the amount of fruits and vegetables you are eating during the day?”, “How much money are you spending on groceries?” and “How much income do you make?” In previous programs, patients have been asked similar questions.
Trinidad Luna, 54, Los Angeles, He/Him, Mexican-American
Trinidad Luna is a resident of Korea Town and a double-amputee who is currently having trouble earning money to pay for his food. His CalFresh benefits have shrunk from $265 to $25 this month due to the end of COVID extra benefits. He said that it has affected him physically and emotionally. Luna said that he suffers from several chronic diseases, including diabetes, which is why he must be careful about eating healthy foods, which tend to be more expensive. “I have to eat certain foods, and I’m not able to purchase some of that food because I can’t afford it and I have to continue a diabetic diet,” Luna said. He told CALÓ NEWS that he is currently stressing out this month because he won’t be able to afford food like he used to. “Inflation is so bad, what can I afford with just $85?” Luna asked.
Unfortunately for Luna, he has had a rough couple of years since the start of the pandemic. He used to have a job working at the farmer’s market and would make enough money to cover his bills. Due to his diabetes, they had to amputate both of his legs in 2021, and now he is in a wheelchair relying on government assistance. Due to his disability, he doesn’t have much mobility and the nearest grocery store near him is too expensive for him to shop at. In order to supplement his food budget, he now relies on donations and aid from churches and food banks.
“I’m suffering because I’m not eating enough protein like I need to. The government thinks they are saving money, but they are not. They are only making it worse for them. In the long run, people are going to show up with a lot more medical issues because they didn’t have access to healthy foods,” Luna said.
Adults with diabetes and food insecurity are 40% more likely to have poor glycemic control. Therefore, there is an urgent need to understand the collective impact of chronic diseases and the associated health disparities, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Monsalve said that he believes the reason low-income households can’t afford healthy foods is because it’s so expensive. “It’s easier to purchase fast food than to purchase fruits and vegetables,” Monsalve said. “A lot of this fast food you can buy with less than two dollars. Right now you can’t even buy a salad with two dollars.”
Food insecurity is highly prevalent among Latino youth and has detrimental health implications, especially for girls, older youth and youth experiencing acculturative stress. Reducing food insecurity and improving health among/Latino youth will likely require comprehensive policies that address their multiple migrations, familial and economic stressors, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Credit: By Amairani Hernandez – SNAP helps a quarter of U.S. children avoid hunger.
Monsalve is already seeing some of those startling results in young adults who already have chronic diseases and other medical conditions. Monsalve said that some people don’t even know they are sick until they feel bad. They may not feel it now, but 20 years from now they will. And a lot of low-income families can’t afford expensive medical bills. “If a patient has a stroke, that’s very expensive, not only for the patient but for the system too,” Monsalve said.
For more information on CalFresh, visit the Department of Social Services. If you or a loved one is interested in applying for food benefits, check out getcalfresh.org. For more resources for healthy eating, visit the American Heart Association.