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Student leaders express excitement as ASUCLA prepares to accept CalFresh

The UCLA Store market in Ackerman Union is finalizing details to accept CalFresh through Electronic Benefit Transfer cards on campus since its state and federal approval. (Marc-Anthony Rosas/Daily Bruin)

By Kalani Seymore

Feb. 3, 2022 12:53 a.m.

Student and administrative leaders expressed excitement as Associated Students UCLA stores prepare to accept CalFresh through Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

CalFresh, California’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides low-income Californians with a grocery allowance of up to $250 per month.

UCLA anticipates it will be able to accept CalFresh in mid-February, said UCLA spokesperson Katherine Alvarado. Individuals will soon be able to use their CalFresh cards at the UCLA Store market located at Ackerman Union.

[Related: UCLA Store market to accept CalFresh cards following federal approval]

Eligible items include fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products, bread, cereals, snacks and nonalcoholic beverages, among other food items, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Eva Jussim, director of university relations at the Undergraduate Students Association Council Office of the External Vice President, said ASUCLA is taking various steps to ensure that transactions will occur smoothly now that UCLA is approved to accept CalFresh payments by the state and federal government. Jussim, a second-year political science student, added that the university is training ASUCLA employees and testing the registers with various transaction types.

“They’re still testing out the registers,” Jussim said. “(ASUCLA) is working out issues like, if somebody is purchasing (both) eligible and ineligible items in the same purchase … as well as returns.”

The CalFresh Initiative at UCLA, a student-led initiative housed under the Community Programs Office, said in an emailed statement that it has been working with ASUCLA to design signage with information about CalFresh at the UCLA Store market, where students can find information about eligibility and the application.

Jussim added that the EVP office is also working to destigmatize CalFresh as a source of payment and encourage healthy food purchases. She said the office’s goal is to increase student participation in and awareness about the program.

Jussim addressed the widespread stigma around EBT users and said people using EBT to purchase groceries should not be treated any differently than people using any other form of payment.

According to UCLA Basic Needs, students must have less than 10.5 meals per week to be eligible for CalFresh, making most students living on the Hill ineligible for CalFresh since the smallest meal plan is 11 meals per week.

Jiseon Kim, data and policy coordinator for the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA and a fourth-year history student, said having CalFresh vendors on campus will expand access to on-campus stores for off-campus students and commuters who do not have meal plans, especially as classes move back to in-person instruction.

“(Students) may not have enough time to cook and/or money to spend,” Kim added. “Being able to use CalFresh while they’re on campus rather than going off campus is really crucial to making sure that they are able to access and afford food.”

The CalFresh Initiative said it is anticipating that with increased awareness, more UCLA students will apply to and participate in CalFresh, improving food security on campus.

Jussim added that CalFresh has been a priority for EVP Sarah Wang since California State Assembly Bill 214 was on the docket.

AB 214, or the Budget Act of 2021, specifically sought to address food insecurity among University of California students by funding programs, including those that increase CalFresh enrollment. Since the bill has passed, Jussim said the EVP office has turned to expanding CalFresh accessibility at other California college campuses as well.

ASUCLA said in an emailed statement that the CalFresh application takes about 30 minutes to complete, adding that the CalFresh Initiative at UCLA can help students apply for CalFresh benefits. The initiative encourages students to attend its virtual office hours, email or schedule an appointment.

It is difficult to quantify exactly how many UCLA students are eligible for CalFresh, the initiative added, but about 150 to 200 applications are submitted monthly through UCLA’s referral link.

“We understand how difficult it can be to plan your next meal, especially if you live in an off-campus apartment or commute,” the CalFresh Initiative said. “We hope that with students being able to use their CalFresh card at the (UCLA Store) market, they will have one less thing to worry about.”

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Kalani Seymore
Seymore is a campus politics contributor. He is also a first year student at UCLA double-majoring in political science and business economics.
Seymore is a campus politics contributor. He is also a first year student at UCLA double-majoring in political science and business economics.
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