Understanding the Impact of CalFresh Application Assistance: Race, Ethnicity, and Data at UC Irvine

Rajitmeet SinghEmerson, Field

Above: 29th Class Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow Rajitmeet Singh at the UCI Basic Needs Center in Irvine, California

I have a different perspective on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as I grew up on the other end of it. My father’s store in Los Angeles, California, relied heavily on SNAP sales as a major source of income, which enabled him to provide for our family’s basic needs, including funding my little sister’s and my education. My only personal interaction with SNAP was during my service year as an AmeriCorps Member, where I personally received SNAP benefits to use to buy fresh food. My background and experience in the field of education led to my placement with the University of California at Irvine Basic Needs Center, where my primary responsibilities involved increasing the visibility of the CalFresh Application Assistance program and increasing the number of university students applying to CalFresh, which is California’s version of SNAP.

I spent most of my days tracking interactions between the center and the university, assisting students applying for CalFresh, or participating in various outreach initiatives on behalf of the CalFresh Application Assistance Program. I worked to identify networks of professors and students that could be expanded and utilized to its fullest potential to increase the visibility of the UCI Basic Needs Center and its basic needs programs. At the Basic Needs Center, I analyzed both qualitative and quantitative data, looking for programmatic shifts; however, I knew that effectiveness of the data would be limited if a racial equity perspective was not factored in.

Throughout my field placement I received extensive training on the requirements for applying for CalFresh, which covered the eligibility criteria which is based on several factors, including income, household size, and assets. The eligibility process is more complicated for college students, since they have to fulfill an additional eligibility requirement that is often challenging to meet. And while CalFresh Application Assistance Program outreach and advocacy is focused on facilitating access to underrepresented student groups based on CalFresh eligibility requirements, it faces a challenge in collecting and measuring the racial and ethnic diversity of its program.

Why is collecting and measuring the racial and ethnic diversity of the program important?

  1. Applying a racial equity lens to the CalFresh Application Assistance Program will help to reduce food insecurity and systemic barriers and understand the impact of the program’s reach at UC Irvine.
  2. Addressing racial and ethnic disparities will ensure that the CalFresh Application Assistance Program is equitable and provides equal opportunities for all students to access the resources they need to meet their basic needs. Once the data is collected and analyzed, it can be used to inform program improvements and work toward improving food security for students.

In my Hunger Free Community Report, Food Insecurity at UCI: Addressing Student Hunger and Developing Sustainable Solutions for Students, I describe the role that race and ethnic data can play in promoting racial equity in the program. I provide examples of how the program may gather demographic data to reach a wider audience of students from diverse racial backgrounds to reduce disparities, like including student-led workshops and maintaining a database of student groups to easily follow up with students and organizations to make sure they’re receiving the support they need. However, I have come to realize that I overlooked some important aspects of the changes I am proposing in collecting data, such as the ways in which race and ethnic data information gathering will strengthen the quality of service for students and the difficulties involved in gathering it. In retrospect, I should have delved deeper into these matters. Additionally, I should have explored multiple examples of how it is used to aid the UCI Basic Needs Center to set up a race and ethnic data collection system.

In conclusion, my experiences at my field placement allowed me to gain valuable insights into the challenges faced by college students in accessing their basic needs. I have developed a strong understanding of CalFresh’s eligibility requirements, the barriers that college students face when trying to access the program, and the importance of addressing these disparities to create a more racially equitable society. Moving forward, I am committed to using my skills and knowledge to support efforts aimed at reducing food insecurity and promoting racial equity within my community.

About the Authors

Singh headshot

Rajitmeet Singh

Emerson Fellow

Rajitmeet Singh is a Sikh American, first generation college graduate, immigrant, from Los Angeles, California. The past 5 years, Rajitmeet served in multiple nonprofit organizations to make meaningful change working with under-resourced communities with a focus on improving opportunity, achievement, and stability for students. Rajitmeet Singh loves exploring, asking questions about how things work, and drinking coffee while reading books about absolutely everything.

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