Ads aim to get more people on government food assistance

Ads aim to get more people on government food assistance

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Some new TV commercials aren't selling anything. They're designed to give more benefits to people needing food assistance.

State officials are promoting the current food stamp program called CalFresh, saying too many people who qualify aren't signed up.

In Kern County, they hope to increase enrollment by 10 percent.

"We've been making a concerted effort to do additional outreach to those who might be eligible for CalFresh to help ensure that their nutritional needs are met," Kern County Human Services assistant director Pam Holiwell told Eyewitness News on Wednesday. The state is footing the bill for the ad campaign that's running on TV stations in most areas.

"If you want healthy meals, freshen up your plate with CalFresh," the ad says. It shows pictures of colorful fruit and vegetables, explaining that's the new food stamp program. "CalFresh can help you purchase healthy food for your family," the announcer says.

The public food assistance program now puts the benefits on what are called electronic-benefit transaction cards that look like a debit card. The EBT cards can be loaded up with benefits for cash aid, food assistance or both.

Holiwell said as of this May, the department shows 59,621 people in Kern County getting food assistance through CalFresh, but they believe there's a large number who still need the help.

"Kern County has additionally 119,000 additional people who are potentially eligible," she said.

And, the new TV campaign hopes to reach certain groups of people, including senior citizens.

"Sometimes seniors go through some food insecurity," Holiwell said. "The CalFresh benefits would just help them make their ends meet."

At the Rasmussen Senior Center on Wednesday, seniors playing pool had mixed reaction to that idea, and to the TV commercials.

"I think it's excellent," George Ulrich said. "Poor people and the older people need some help."

John Capinha takes the same view.

"It's a real good thing, because us seniors need all the help we can get," he said. And Capinha says he knows of elderly people who need help getting enough food.

But, Jim Hodge can't think of anyone like that, and takes issue with the ad campaign.

"Why advertise free giveaways?" he asks.

The CalFresh program is funded with tax dollars, mostly federal money, according to Holiwell.

"I don't think we're paying more taxes," she said of trying to get more recipients signed up. "We pay the taxes that we're paying."

To qualify for CalFresh, a single-person household must show a net monthly income of no more than $931, according to data from the program. The graph shows that person can get a maximum CalFresh allotment of $200.

A four-person household must have a net monthly income of no more than $1,921, and would get an allotment of up to $668.

Holiwell said California's rate of enrollment for its version of food stamps looks lower than some other states, because in California there's an SSI program that also provides some food assistance.

But, the new CalFresh ad campaign also stresses healthy eating. Officials say that's a major reason for getting more people into the program.

"Good nutrition helps to support healthy living," Holiwell said. If people don't have adequate money, they don't get adequate food.

And, she adds the food assistance benefits also have a local economic benefit. Holiwell said research shows every dollar in CalFresh benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity.

"They use (the food assistance money) here in Kern County," Holiwell said. "They use it at the grocery store, the grocer hires employees, and a truck that brings it in here."

Local officials with the program say they plan outreach in places like senior citizen centers, food banks and health fairs. And Holiwell said the public can get more information by calling their hot line at (661) 631-6062.

She said the local campaign stresses helping needy people "make ends meet." The state's TV ads stress "better food for better living."

Holiwell said they hope the message gets to the people who need it. "To help ensure that they have a better chance of having a healthy life and a healthy life style."