The Food and Nutrition Service approved a request on Feb. 9 for an extension on the CalFresh benefits affected by last month’s storm to recover food loss until March 4 — but the waiver was underutilized, according to the county.

The CalFresh extension on grocery recovery funding was underutilized by the county, according to a county official. Nexus File Photo

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) granted the “Timely Reporting Waiver” to Santa Barbara County so CalFresh recipients could request benefits replacement within a 30-day period instead of its regular 10. 

The CDSS typically offers a 10-day period in which CalFresh recipients can report food loss for any reason that is out of the norm, including power loss for more than four hours, utilities being shut off for any reason, refrigerator malfunctions and other household misfortunes. After a major disaster or storm, however, this time frame is typically extended to 30 days.

According to Santa Barbara County Deputy Director of Economic Assistance and Employment Services Maria Gardner, the waiver was underutilized by the community and students since Santa Barbara wasn’t impacted as deeply as other counties.

“Fortunately, we have not had much activity with the replacement waiver, which I hope means that people did not have significant food spoilage/loss due to extended power outages from the storms,” Gardner said.

The February storm, which caused flooding and power outages all along the West Coast, prompted the CDSS to request that the 10-day reporting requirement be extended to 30 days past the storm’s start date. 

The CDSS estimates that approximately 280,724 CalFresh households were affected by the storm statewide and replacement of CalFresh benefits would cost over $54 million, according to the approval letter from the Food and Nutrition Service.

In Santa Barbara County, 53,263 individuals utilize CalFresh, with new applications up 17% from 2023, according to Gardner. UC Santa Barbara CalFresh and Basic Needs Communications Coordinator Daisy Basulto-Hernandez said that just under approximately 5,000 UCSB students rely on CalFresh each year, compared to the 8,000-10,000 UCSB students who are likely eligible. 

Gardner said that the CalFresh benefit replacement waiver is an important resource to address food insecurity during major storms. 

“It is an important benefit for people who rely on CalFresh to assist them in meeting their nutritional needs to be able to replace food when a devastating loss such as an extended power outage causes the loss of their essential food supply,” Gardner said.

Basulto-Hernandez said she urges UCSB students to take advantage of all the resources available to them.

“I’d like for students to know that if they are experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity or any other hardships that affect their basic needs to visit the Food Security and Basic Needs Advising Center in the UCen. We have a wide variety of resources and can help support all students,” Basulto-Hernandez said.

More information can be found on the UCSB Basic Needs Website.

A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the March 7, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.