As Food Insecurity Rises – Millions Missing Out on LA County Food Support Programs
From left to right: Hilda L. Solis, Supervisor, First District, LA County Board of Supervisors; Kayla de la Haye, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California; Rigo Reyes, Executive Director, LA County Office of Immigrant Affairs; Kiran Saluja, Executive Director, PHFE WIC (Haluna Health); LaShonda Diggs, Division Chief, LA County Department of Public Social Services.
By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services
More than a million LA County residents are missing out on easily accessible programs that would them keep their families well-nourished and healthy.
At a July 26 “call to action” news briefing hosted by the Los Angeles County Joint Information Center on COVID, Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, Chair of the Board of Supervisors, was joined by county officials, administrators and academics to urge people to help themselves to what’s on the table.
“Why leave a child to go starving, why leave an elderly or our families having to forego meals when they have the ability to provide more than just three meals a day and receive the sufficient nutrients that they need to continue to go on with a good life?” Solis asked, challenging reporters as trusted messengers to spread the word.
She described distributing millions of pounds of food, millions of meals, and a million dollars worth of baby formula, and thanked the workers and partners who helped make that happen. “I like to think we’re providing hope as well as food.”
Food insecurity – the disruption of regular eating because of limited money or other resources — has grown since the pandemic, according to a USC study.
In Los Angeles County, after years of declining food insecurity – from 31% of low-income households in 2011 to 29% in 2015 and 27% in 2018 — the number “spiked,” to 42% of low-income households and 34% of all households as of April 2020.
There are disparities according to ethnicity, the study found, with 40% of Hispanic/Latino and 39% of Black/African American households experiencing food insecurity last year. For Asian-identifying households, the number is 28% and among non-Hispanic whites, it’s 21%.
Professor Kayla de la Haye, one of the study authors, pointed out that after that April 2020 peak, levels of food insecurity diminished in the county and then plateaued, although they are still more than 10% higher than they were pre-pandemic.
Kiran Saluja, executive director of the United States’ biggest WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) program, said at least 40,000 pregnant women, new mothers and children up to age five are eligible for WIC but have not enrolled, despite the easy application forms and a 24-to-48 hour approval process.
In the United States, half of all babies qualify for the WIC program, she added. In L.A. County, 66% do.
Foods that are approved for purchase via WIC debit cards are labeled as such in grocery stores because they provide key nutrients.
“When you eat WIC foods regularly, you get to a lifetime of good choices. Look for the WIC tag and you’ll never go wrong,” Saluja said.
She urged families to get on board with WIC soon to access an added benefit available through the American Rescue Plan Act that provides WIC recipients with an extra $35 per child to be spent on fruits and vegetables. The program is set to expire after September.
WIC applications can be submitted by phone: (888) 942-2229; via text, by typing APPLY to the number 91997; by email to phfewic.org/apply; or through the website: myfamily.wic.ca.gov.
Saluja added that her program “has an amazing website WIChealth.org, for online education on all kinds of topics and recipes.”
CalFresh, currently helps 1.3 million people and is “one of the county’s most effective anti-poverty programs,” according to LaShonda Diggs, of the county’s Department of Social Services. “But we estimate there are over 1.5 million individuals who are potentially eligible but are not receiving benefits.”
Some CalFresh participants can use their benefits at restaurants, and farmer’s markets. The American Rescue Plan is boosting benefits by 15% through September, Diggs said, so a family of three earning less than $3,620 can qualify for up to $660 per month.
She said that same-day eligibility determinations are made for applications through their call center: (866) 613-3777 (M-F, 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturdays 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and that the streamlined application process via getcalfresh.org also yields immediate responses from eligibility workers.
More information on CalFresh and other county programs can be found at the department’s website: https://dpss.lacounty.gov/.
Rigo Reyes, Director of the LA County Office of Immigrant Affairs, emphasized that immigrants can safely apply for food support programs without fear of negative repercussions from policies such as “public charge.”
“It’s going to take a lot of time for us to undo the damage that has been done with the anti-immigrant rhetoric that went on for years,” Reyes noted. He encouraged people to at least check into their eligibility for benefits.