A series of recent policy changes at the state and county level have made it easier for low-income individuals to get health care coverage and buy healthy food, especially in and around Pescadero.
In January, a state law took effect that helps families already enrolled in Medi-Cal qualify For CalFresh, California’s version of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). And San Mateo County recently approved a change to its ACE Health Plan Program (which covers low-income adults who are not eligible for other health programs) to waive the annual program fee for seasonal farm workers.
Both changes will “open a window for more participants to be eligible. There are families that will benefit,” says Kerry Lobel, Puente’s executive director.
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 191, improve alignment between CalFresh and Medi-Cal and help ensure that low-income households with a Medi-Cal recipient also receive CalFresh nutrition benefits. From now on, any family with at least one person enrolled in Medi-Cal will be categorically eligible for CalFresh – provided that family’s combined monthly income does not exceed $3,925, or 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four. Previously, CalFresh eligibility was capped at 130% of the federal poverty level.
The state has been looking for ways to make it easier for people to apply all at one time for all the public assistance programs they qualify for, according to Nancy Rodriguez, a management analyst with the Human Services Agency of San Mateo County, who specializes in this area.
“We want people to be healthy. And in order for them to be healthy, they need to eat a good meal. It goes hand in hand,” says Rodriguez.
The next step is to increase enrollments. Both Puente and county officials are undertaking efforts to spread the word in the coming months, since many people who qualify for special assistance don’t always know it.
According to statistics provided by San Mateo County, 18 percent of Pescadero residents live below the federal poverty line – the largest percentage anywhere in the county. Of the 116 individuals who qualify for CalFresh, 108 people are enrolled.
Lobel says both those numbers are likely low, and that more people will qualify under the new rules.
Puente also enrolls participants in ACE, the county’s specialized health care program for people who don’t qualify for health care under any other circumstances (for instance, if they are not fully documented). De Mendez was thrilled when the county decided to adopt a fee waiver for farm workers earning less than $23,000 per year. This entails a $360 savings, although participants are still responsible for co-pays.
Many farm and nursery workers have lived in the area for years, paid their taxes, and still don’t have health care. Now they have an incentive to have Puente sign them up.