Learn About California Food Stamps

Updated on 09/29/2022

The food stamps program, which is now known nationwide as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), helps low-income families by expanding their budget for food items. The program was renamed to help fight the stigma surrounding the original name, and to emphasize the focus on nutritious foods. SNAP is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and distributed through food assistance offices in CA counties.

In California, SNAP is known as CalFresh and is administered by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). In addition, qualified applicants receive electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, which may be used like debit cards to purchase items from grocery stores and farmers markets. Learn more about eligibility, the application process and benefits below.

Learn About California Food Stamps Requirements

If you are wondering about your food stamps eligibility in California, you must learn the general requirements. First, you are allowed to apply for benefits regardless of the people in your household.

For instance, you may be the only person living in your household. You also do not have to be related to the other people who live with you in your household, and you do not need to live in a home.

In addition, your CalFresh eligibility depends on your citizenship status. You may apply if at least one member of your household has a Social Security number (SSN), which means he or she must be either a U.S. citizen or a legal non-citizen.

If only you and certain members of your household qualify for benefits, you may leave the SSN section blank for the other household members. However, the earnings of those household members may still be counted. You are also allowed to apply for benefits on behalf of your children, even if you do not qualify for benefits yourself.

To determine whether you meet the food stamp qualifications in CA for income, you must calculate your household’s monthly earnings. This involves combining the incomes of every working member of your household, plus forms of unearned income and certain assets.

Forms of unearned income include investments and bonds. Assets that will be counted include money in checking or savings accounts, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and cash on hand.

The CDSS will not count the following assets toward your SNAP eligibility:

  • Childcare payments
  • Foster care payments
  • Vehicles that are used for work
  • And more

Once you have calculated your household’s income, compare it to the maximum income levels established by the CDSS.

Generally, your household’s gross monthly income may not exceed 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for your household size. Different incomes will apply to households with more people. For example, your monthly income may not exceed approximately $3,052 if your household consists of two people or $4,626 if your household consists of four people. These limits are routinely updated, so it is important to check them regularly. To learn more requirements for SNAP benefits, download our free guide.

If you do not qualify based on the CA SNAP income guidelines, you may still qualify based on deductions. For example, you may deduct a certain amount from your earnings if a member of your household:

  • Is 60 years of age or older.
  • Has a disability.
  • Is a student who works at least 20 hours per week.

Keep in mind that certain other rules exist for students.

How to Apply for Food Stamps in California

The way in which you apply for food stamps in CA will depend on your county. For instance, residents of Lassen county may apply in person at their local office, by mail or online. Residents of San Bernardino County and Merced County, however, may only apply in person or online.

Thus, it is very important to check with your local county office for the approved submission methods. Note that most county offices allow you to apply in person.

If you want to complete a CalFresh application in person, visit your county office during its regular business hours. It may help to bring the following documents with you:

  • Proof of identity, such as a birth certificate, driver’s license, state ID or green card
  • Proof of employment
  • Proof of income, such as a paycheck
  • Proof of utility bills or your use of a homeless shelter
  • And more

Having these documents readily available mayill make it easier to fill out the application.

If you are allowed to complete the food stamp application by mail, you must call the number provided by your local county office to request the application. The appropriate forms will be mailed to you. When you have filled them out, send them back to your county office.

If you want to apply for food stamps online, visit the CalFresh website. You will be redirected to an application site, which will prompt you to create an account or log in to your existing account. The CalFresh site states that applications may be completed in 10 minutes.

After your office receives your application, you will be contacted for an interview. You may take the interview over the phone or in person.

You may be asked to verify your proof of earned income, unearned income, identity, residency and more. If you do not have certain documents, you will not automatically lose eligibility. In fact, your office may help you obtain the information it needs.

Learn About SNAP Benefits in California

If you are eligible for CA SNAP benefits, you may begin using them as soon as you receive your EBT card. Many grocery stores and farmers markets across the state accept EBT cards. If you are unsure about which businesses participate in SNAP, you may check the CalFresh list of authorized stores and businesses.

In addition, certain farmers markets participate in a market match program, which provides you with extra dollars to spend at a market. The CalFresh site lists businesses that participate in this program as well.

You may use your CalFresh benefits to buy the following items:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Red meat, fish, poultry and meat substitutes
  • Nuts and beans
  • Grains, such as rice or oats, bread and cereal
  • Dairy products
  • And more

You may not use your benefits to buy the following:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Tobacco products and cigarettes
  • Pet food, paper products and toiletries
  • Vitamins, medicine and supplements
  • Hot foods or foods meant to be eaten in a store

Unlike other states that offer food stamp benefits, California has an exception to the hot foods rule. Certain counties offer a restaurant meals program, which allows you to purchase hot foods with your EBT card.

Contact Information

Name: California Department of Social Services

Phone Number: (916) 651-8848

Address: 744 P Street, Sacramento, CA 95814

Director: Kimberly Johnson

Last Updated: February 27, 2023