Food Stamps’ Fresh Face
From now on, if your income is low enough and you live in California, you can apply to CalFresh for benefits. No, CalFresh isn’t a packing shed, but the new brand and logo for the California program formerly known as food stamps.
Changing the name involved a “Mad Men”-like creative processes. Getting CalFresh approved by late October took several years of advocacy and state legislation. Considering the federal mandate under which the states work to provide food assistance to their residents, CalFresh is either going to be a confusing obfuscation or a refreshing change other states will want to adopt.
The federal food stamp program is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The program is 47 years old and has had that off-putting name for just as long. SNAP funds the states, but any state can call food stamps whatever it wants.
In California, the past decade has seen big changes in the food stamp program, and advocates of calling the program CalFresh wanted a new name and logo to reflect those changes.
No more food stamps
The biggest happened in 2004. That’s when food stamps in California stopped being stamps. Paper coupons were replaced with electronic swipe cards, like debit cards. The chronically hungry know the system. But thousands more have been encouraged to apply as they become unemployed or their income dips. As the rolls grow, more federal money flows to each community. When it’s not used, billions of dollars are left on the table that could have gone into local economies, benefiting everyone from grocer to grower.
The most significant change in California’s food assistance is a new emphasis on health and nutrition. Applicants may find themselves in a cooking class learning how to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables. California Food Policy Advocates spearheaded the move to change the name from food stamps to CalFresh. It took several years of focus groups and legislation to change the name.
“It’s not stamps anymore,” says George Manalo-LeClair, senior legislative analyst for CPFA. He says name-change focus groups included people potentially eligible for assistance and people already in the program.
“That component of the word ‘fresh’ came right from the discussions,” Manalo-LeClair says. “It’s really a program that puts food on the tables of hungry people. Low-income people wanted resources to help them purchase fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.”
Participants can use the cards at most farmers markets in the state to buy fresh produce. CalFresh will be administered by the California Department of Social Services. Its director, John Wagner, liked using marketing tactics to find words that avoid the suggestion of welfare.
“What didn’t resonate was the term assistance … stamps … things like that,” Wagner says. “The new name is a better reflection of the goals of the program, proper eating, proper nutrition, obesity prevention.”
Wagner hopes California’s CalFresh branding idea for food stamps spreads to other states. In California, more than 3 million people receive food benefits. It’s estimated that twice as many now qualify for CalFresh.
Zester Daily contributor Elaine Corn is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and food editor. A former editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Sacramento Bee, Corn has written six cookbooks and contributed food stories to National Public Radio.