California to provide more food benefits for schoolchildren during the coronavirus crisis

Patrick McGreevy

With California campuses closed because of the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that low-income families would receive $365 per child to buy food during the next two months to make up for the loss of free and reduced-priced lunches previously provided by the schools.

Newsom estimated up to $1.4 billion in federal funds would be provided to 3.8 million families in California.

“We think that is a significant thing,” Newsom said during his daily coronavirus briefing. “We are going to do our best to get [the money] in people’s pockets because we deeply recognize people’s food insecurity, not just their economic insecurity.”

Families with children currently enrolled in the state's food stamps program, CalFresh, or Medi-Cal or foster care programs do not need to apply for the extra money. They will receive a new pandemic electronic benefit transfer card in the mail in May.

Other eligible families will have to apply online starting in late May.

“These additional food benefits will help families put food on the table during this time of great need,” said Kim Johnson, director of the state Department of Social Services, which is administering the program.

Newsom also announced that CalFresh recipients can now use their EBT cards to buy food online from Amazon and Walmart as part of an effort to reduce the need for people to go to stores, where there is a risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

The governor also said that the state received 190,000 applications in unemployment applications from independent contractors, gig workers and self-employed people on Tuesday, the first day benefits were made available to those workers.

Those claims are part of 3.7 million new applications filed by unemployed Californians since March 12, Newsom said, adding that so far more than $6 billion in unemployment benefits has been paid by the state during that period.

The surge in new applications has for weeks caused access issues on the state Employment Development Department's website, with some jobless people saying they were not able to file an application.

“I am deeply aware that many of you tried to access that system online, in person, and struggled to get in,” Newsom said. “We are getting our arms around this unprecedented volume.”