California’s Free Produce Program for Low-Income Families Faces Funding Challenges

A popular California program that provides free fruits and vegetables to low-income families is facing financial difficulties. The pilot program, which gives CalFresh recipients a dollar-for-dollar match on fresh produce purchases at participating retailers, is set to end in mid-April unless additional funding is secured. Assemblymember Alex Lee, a Democrat from Milpitas, is requesting $30 million from California’s tight budget to extend the program through June 2025.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has approved several of the governor’s more modest anti-hunger proposals, including a summer program offering $40 per month in food assistance benefits for each eligible child, a significant decrease from the $125 per month provided last summer. Lawmakers have also approved the expansion of California’s food assistance program for undocumented immigrants 55 and older, set to begin in late 2025.

The governor’s May budget proposal included a total of $2.7 billion in state and federal funding for anti-hunger programs. However, the Legislature’s budget includes several additional food benefits not included in the governor’s proposal:

  1. $35 million for incentive programs, including Market Match;
  2. $30 million for a CalFresh $50 minimum benefit pilot program;
  3. $9.9 million for a broader California Fruit & Vegetable EBT pilot program;
  4. $3 million to extend a CalFresh program for purchasing safe drinking water.

The original proposal to increase the minimum CalFresh benefit from $23 to $50 per month statewide was estimated to cost $95 million. However, the Legislature’s budget deal only includes $30 million, sufficient for a pilot program in select counties. As budget negotiations continue, there is uncertainty regarding whether even the reduced $30 million will be approved.

Last year, when the state had a record budget surplus, supporters requested $240 million over two years for the program but did not receive funding. This year, supporters asked for $94 million over two years but were allocated only $9.9 million in the Legislature’s budget.

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