CalFresh Program Benefits in California


CalFresh is the California version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. The CalFresh program is operated on a county level throughout the state. CalFresh benefits provide assistance with food purchasing for low-income households. However, the state limits the products approved beneficiaries may purchase and where benefits may be used. Benefits from CalFresh do not last a lifetime, and enrollees will need to reapply for food stamps at the end of the benefit period.

What You Can and Cannot Buy With CalFresh Benefits in California

You can use your California CalFresh benefits to purchase food items and certain items that result in food. Residents enrolled in the CalFresh program cannot purchase any product for consumptions, as the state and federal government have restrictions on benefit use. The electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card can be used to purchase most food found in CA grocery stores such as bread, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. Enrollees can also buy seeds and plants that will produce food. You must use your CalFresh benefit card at USDA-authorized food retail stores that accepts SNAP. These locations typically have a welcome sign notifying consumers of accepting EBT cards. You are not limited to using your card in California exclusively. You may use it in any of the United States as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.

You may not use benefits from CalFresh to buy lunch-counter items or hot foods that are prepared and can be eaten in the store. These meals are not considered cost effective or as nutritious as other grocery options. Likewise, junk food and luxury items are also prohibited. Items such as energy drinks, candy, and bakery cakes are among some of the items considered ineligible.

You cannot use food stamp benefits to obtain pet food or alcohol either. The SNAP EBT card cannot be used for buying non-food items such as tobacco, personal hygiene or household items. While CalFresh benefits cannot be used to purchase nutritional supplements or medications, those enrolled in the program may be eligible for enrollment in California medical assistance programs.

Find out more about applying for comprehensive California benefits in our free guide.

How much California CalFresh benefits will I receive?

California CalFresh benefits are determined based on how many family members are in your household, your income and your housing expenses. The CalFresh program maximum benefit allowance for one person is $194 per month. However, this will not mean that each family member is eligible for that amount. The program encourages meal planning and funds are projections of the cost to feed the family as a whole. The maximum CalFresh benefit for a four person family is $649 per month.

Although the above figures represent the maximum CalFresh benefits a household may receive, the average applicant receives less. In the state of California, the average amount of food stamp benefits for an individual person is around $150 per month. For a household, the average benefit is around $330 per month. After applying for food stamps, approved beneficiaries will receive a notification of how much for which they qualify.

How much time does it take to receive CalFresh benefits in California?

Since each county in California manages the CalFresh program for that area, the amount of time it takes for applications to be approved or denied can vary. However, CalFresh officials in each county must make a decision about a claim within 30 days of submission. A CalFresh benefit decision will take longer in heavy metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco County than in smaller populous areas like Alpine or Sierra County, for example. During this assessment period, your local county office will interview you over the phone or in person.

You may apply for expedited services if you need benefits quickly and meet the requirements. Those who qualify for expedited CalFresh benefits will receive compensation within three days from when the county receives the application. These qualifying households must have a drastic financial need to qualify for the fast service. You may be eligible for CalFresh expedited service if:

  • Your gross household monthly income and resources are less than a certain fixed amount.
  • Your total household income is less than the amount you are required to pay for your rent or mortgage and utilities.
  • You are a seasonal farm worker or migrant whose resources are less than a set amount.

How long can I receive CalFresh benefits in California?

California residents can remain enrolled in the CalFresh program for as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. Households enrolled in CalFresh will need to requalify for benefits each year. This means that you will have to be interview again to renew benefits. If there are any changes to your eligibility before the end of the enrollment period that will make you ineligible, you will be removed from the program. This includes changes to income, family size or housing expenses.

To learn more about obtaining CalFresh benefits, download our comprehensive guide.

What Kind of Assistance Does the Department of Social Services Offer?

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) provides various types of assistance benefits to residents of the state. Through the CDSS, individuals and families can obtain temporary cash assistance, food assistance and more. Furthermore, applicants who are eligible for the benefits of one CDSS program will often qualify for the assistance benefits of another. Find out everything you need to know about the services and benefits provided by the Department of Social Services by downloading our helpful CDSS guide.

Who Can Benefit From California’s Department of Social Services?

To receive benefits from the CDSS, you and your family will need to meet certain eligibility criteria. The criteria used to determine an applicant’s eligibility typically include income, age, resources and citizenship, among other factors. Find out if you qualify for California DSS assistance benefits here.