February 16, 2024

The 2024‑25 Budget

Food Assistance Programs

Summary. In this post, we provide background on the state’s major food assistance programs, CalFresh and the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP), provide updates on caseload trends, and analyze the Governor’s proposed food assistance budget. Under the Governor’s budget, there are no proposed solutions.


CalFresh Provides Federally Funded Nutrition Assistance to Low-Income Californians. CalFresh is California’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , which provides monthly food assistance to qualifying low-income households. To be eligible, households generally must earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. CalFresh benefits can be used to buy most groceries and some prepared food at participating vendors, which include most grocery and convenience stores. Monthly benefits per household vary based on household size, income, and deductible living expenses—with larger households generally receiving more benefits than smaller households and relatively higher-income households generally receiving fewer benefits than lower-income households. In 2022‑23, about 5.1 million Californians received a total of $14.5 billion in CalFresh benefits, all of it federally funded, for an average monthly benefit of about $185 per recipient. (This average monthly benefit does not include the emergency allotments provided in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which averaged about $99 per person. These emergency allotments ended in February 2023.) The federal government annually adjusts CalFresh benefits in accordance with changes in the cost of food, and in addition to this annual adjustment, made a major upward revision in 2021 when it revised the contents of the “Thrifty Food Plan” (the meal plan on which CalFresh benefits are based) to account for developments in nutritional science.

CalFresh Administration Is Funded by the State, Counties, and Federal Government. CalFresh is overseen at the state level by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and administered locally by county human services departments. Although CalFresh benefits are paid by the federal government, the costs to administer the program are shared by state, county, and federal governments.

CalFresh Is Administered Through Two Main Systems. CalFresh eligibility and enrollment is tracked by a single statewide system, the California Statewide Automated Welfare System (CalSAWS). CalSAWS was introduced in 2019 and, as of October 2023, all 58 counties use the system. The federal government helps manage an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system which deposits monthly benefits for CalFresh and other human services programs onto cards to be used at grocery and convenience store checkout counters.

CFAP Provides State-Funded Food Assistance to Legal Permanent Residents Not Eligible for CalFresh. In 1996, Congress passed a welfare reform bill that, among other things, restricted federal food assistance for certain noncitizens. Most notably, legal permanent residents were rendered ineligible for federally funded nutrition assistance until they had resided in the country for five years. The federal government gave states the option to provide state-funded food assistance to populations affected by the 1996 policy change (such as legal permanent residents who arrived less than five years ago). In response, California established CFAP, which provides benefits through the same EBT and SAWS system as CalFresh. Because CFAP operates through the EBT system, the federal government is directly responsible for depositing funds into the accounts of participating households, and the state reimburses the federal government for these costs. In addition, the federal government charges California for all associated administrative costs. CFAP benefits, which equal those provided by CalFresh, also vary based on household size, income, and deductible living expenses. In 2022‑23, CFAP benefits were $78 million General Fund ($159 average monthly benefit per person, not including temporary emergency allotments granted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which averaged $84 per person and were provided from March 2020 to February 2023). Some immigrants, such as those who are undocumented, are currently ineligible for CFAP based on immigration status. Recent spending plans included funding to expand CFAP to all income-eligible noncitizens aged 55 and older, regardless of immigration status. Implementation of the expansion is expected in October 2025.

Other Programs and Pilots Provide Supplemental Benefits and Emergency Food Support. The state provides additional support for certain populations. For example, the Summer EBT Program, which is currently planned for implementation in summer 2024, provides summertime food benefits to children in households that qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. The California Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot provides CalFresh recipients in pilot counties with a dollar-for-dollar benefit match when they purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at select farmers’ markets and grocery stores. The Emergency Food for Families and CalFood Programs provide food commodities and funding for food banks to support Californians during emergencies.

Budget Overview and Assessment

Total CalFresh and CFAP Funding Increases. As shown in Figure 1, the Governor’s budget proposes $14.8 billion in total funds ($1 billion General Fund) for the CalFresh and CFAP programs in 2024‑25, a net increase of $186 million total funds (1 percent) and net decrease of $12 million General Fund (1 percent) compared to the revised 2023‑24 budget. This overall increase is the effect of higher underlying costs from growing caseload and increased maximum benefit allotments (after implementation of a federal cost-of-living adjustment on October 1, 2023) partially offset by a decrease in CalFresh intake and administrative costs.

Figure 1

CalFresh and CFAP Budget Summary

(Dollars in Millions)



Change From 2023‑24 Revised
to 2024‑25 Proposed



CalFresh Households





CFAP Households






CalFresh Benefitsb





CFAP Benefitsc











Federal Share





State Share





County Share















aAn additional $2.9 billion in federal funds were appropriated in 2023‑24 for temporary pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer benefits and associated administration and automation costs.

bCalFresh benefits are 100 percent federally funded. The Governor’s budget estimates an average monthly benefit of $316 per household. CalFresh benefits also include replacement benefits.

cCFAP benefits are 100 percent General Fund. The Governor’s budget estimates an average monthly benefit of $337 per household. CFAP benefits also include replacement benefits.

CFAP = California Food Assistance Program.

CalFresh and CFAP Caseloads Have Grown in Recent Years. Figures 2 and 3 show CalFresh and CFAP caseload increases over the last five years. CalFresh and CFAP caseload have both increased over 40 percent since the beginning of 2019‑20, although annual rates of growth have varied from year to year. Multiple factors likely contributed to this growth. First, starting in 2019‑20, Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment recipients became newly eligible to receive CalFresh benefits. Due to this policy change, and a decades-long effort to increase CalFresh enrollment, CalFresh caseload was at an historic high prior to the COVID-19 public health crisis (about 2.2 million households in February 2020). Second, the public health crisis and consequent economic downturn likely led to further caseload increases for both programs. Finally, as mentioned, maximum benefit amounts for both programs increased in the last five years. This increase in benefits also may have made the program more attractive to recipients relative to the administrative requirements to enroll. This may have made some recipients more likely to enroll or maintain enrollment. In June 2023, CalFresh and CFAP served approximately 3.2 million households total. Both programs’ caseloads continue to increase in 2023‑24, although initial data suggests CalFresh caseload growth may be slowing.

Figure 2: CalFresh Caseload Continues to
Increase Figure 3: California Food Assistance Program Caseload
Also Increasing

Caseload Projections Appear Reasonable. Our office independently forecasts CalFresh caseload. Our 2023‑24 and 2024‑25 estimates generally align with the administration’s forecast at this time. We will revisit this estimate in the spring when additional data is available.

Budget Continues to Provide Funding for CFAP Expansion Automation and Outreach. As mentioned, recent spending plans included funding to begin expanding CFAP to previously ineligible immigrants aged 55 and older, such as income-eligible undocumented immigrants. The 2023‑24 spending plan included $40 million General Fund for automation and outreach associated with the expansion. The Governor’s 2024‑25 budget proposal shifts some of these funds to 2024‑25 and also provides refined automation cost estimates. The budget includes about $11 million General Fund in 2023‑24 and about $23 million General Fund in 2024‑25 for outreach and automation. Implementation of the expansion is expected in October 2025. Because implementation of the benefit is not expected to occur until 2025‑26, the Governor’s budget does not include General Fund costs to pay for this benefit.

Budget Updates Cost Estimate for EBT Security Technology Improvements. In recent years, CalFresh and other benefits loaded onto EBT cards have been subject to increasing levels of theft. When benefits are stolen, recipients may apply to get replacements benefits, which are funded by a combination of state and federal funds. The administration projects this theft will cost the state over $260 million total funds ($196 million General Fund) to provide and administer reimbursements in 2023‑24. Most of this theft is believed to be accomplished through creating “clones” of EBT cards. EBT card cloning is possible, in part, because EBT cards lack many security features common to debit and credit cards, such as security chips. The Governor’s budget includes $65.8 million ($20.4 million General Fund) in 2023‑24 and $10.7 million ($3.5 million General Fund) in 2024‑25 to improve EBT card technology and security. The proposal shifts about $16 million from 2024‑25 and 2025‑26 to the current year. This funding shift is due to expedited implementation; the projected multiyear cost remains unchanged. The administration currently anticipates that, beginning in May 2024, EBT cards will be issued with chip and tap-to-pay technologies, which provide improved fraud protection over magnetic stripe technology.

Budget Includes $1.2 Billion in Mostly Federal Funding for Other CDSS Food Programs. As shown in Figure 4, the Governor’s budget proposes over $1 billion in total funds ($89 million General Fund) for other CDSS-administered food assistance programs and pilots (some federal or state food programs, like the CDE’s Universal Meals Program, are administered by other departments). CDSS food programs with the largest year-over-year changes from 2023‑24 to 2024‑25 include CalFood, the Summer EBT Program, and the CalFresh Minimum Nutrition Benefit Pilot. CalFood funding is proposed to decrease by $52 million General Fund due to the expiration of a one-time augmentation. An increase of about $206 million in Summer EBT Program funding ($14 million General Fund) largely reflects the impact of a full-year’s caseload in 2024‑25 (compared to 2023‑24 partial-year caseload) as the program implementation continues. The Governor’s budget proposes a year-over-year increase of $14 million General Fund for the Minimum Nutrition Benefit Pilot (which will ensure pilot participants receive, at minimum, $50 in monthly CalFresh benefits, rather than the current minimum of $23) to begin providing pilot benefits in 2024‑25.

Figure 4

Proposed 2024‑25 Funding for Other CDSS‑Administered State and
Federal Food Assistance Programs

(In Millions)







Reimburses some operators of child care centers, day care homes, and adult day care centers for food served.




Summer EBT Programb

Provides food benefits during the summer months to school‑aged children qualified for free or reduced‑price meals.




TEFAP and Emergency Food for Familiesc

Distributes domestically grown foods to food banks and emergency feeding organizations. Emergency Food for Families supplements existing TEFAP funds.




SNB and TNB Programs

Provide monthly supplemental or transitional benefits to households that saw a decrease in CalFresh benefits or became ineligible for CalFresh when SSI/SSP recipients became newly eligible for CalFresh in 2019.




Provides a supplemental $10 food benefit to families who are receiving CalFresh or CFAP, but not receiving CalWORKs assistance, and who are working 20 to 35 hours per week, depending on family composition.



CalFresh Minimum Nutrition Benefit Pilot

Will provide eligible CalFresh recipients with a minimum monthly benefit of $50 for 12 months. CDSS is in the process of determining the pilot area or population.



CalFood Program

Provides funding for food banks for emergency food and administration.



Tribal Nutrition Assistance Program

Provides grants to eligible tribes and tribal organizations to address food insecurity and inequities between CalFresh benefits and the Food Distribution Program for Indian Reservations.



CalFresh Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot

Provides a dollar‑for‑dollar match up to $60 per month when CalFresh households purchase fresh fruits or vegetables at select farmers’ markets and grocery stores.



CalFresh Safe Drinking Water Pilot

Provides some Kern county CalFresh households who have failing water systems with a time‑limited supplemental monthly benefit of $50 for the purchase of safe drinking water.







aCACFP is federally funded through the Food and Nutrition Service. The state funding is provided through Proposition 98 and non‑Proposition 98 General Fund.

bSummer EBT benefits funding is 100 percent federal. Outreach, administration, and automation funding is 50 percent federal and 50 percent General Fund.

cTEFAP is 100 percent federally funded. Emergency Food for Families funding is 100 percent state tax revenue collections.

CDSS = California Department of Social Services; CACFP = Child and Adult Care Food Program; EBT = Electronic Benefit Transfer; TEFAP = The Emergency Food Assistance Program; SNB = Supplemental Nutrition Benefit Program; TNB = Transitional Nutrition Benefit Program; and WINS = Work Incentive Nutritional Supplement

Issues for Legislative Consideration

Continue Monitoring CFAP Expansion. The administration has not provided the Legislature with recent estimates on how quickly or how significantly CFAP caseload is forecasted to grow after the expansion is implemented in October 2025. An up-to-date estimate on how much the expansion is likely to cost after implementation is also needed, particularly in light of the significant budget deficits expected in the future. We recommend the Legislature ask the administration for routine updates regarding the CFAP expansion. These updates should include any changes to the expected time line, caseload estimates, and cost estimates. This information would provide the Legislature greater clarity on the implications of the expansion in the context of continued fiscal constraints.

Consider Future Goals for Work Incentive Nutrition Supplement (WINS) Program. WINS, introduced in 2014, provides some working CalFresh households with additional monthly food benefits of $10. (Currently, WINS costs roughly $25 million annually.) These households help the state meet a federal California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) requirement called the work participation rate (WPR). The Federal Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 set new rules for programs like WINS. Beginning October 1, 2025, working families enrolled in programs of this nature must receive at least $35 in monthly benefits to be included in state WPR calculations. As a result, starting in 2025‑26, the WINS program would only help the state meet its WPR requirements if benefits were increased to $35. This change would increase WINS annual cost to roughly $63 million.

WINS was established with a primary goal of boosting the state’s WPR, with a secondary goal of providing additional benefits to working CalFresh families. This upcoming federal change presents an opportunity for the Legislature to reevaluate its goals for the WINS program moving forward. The Legislature might begin to consider if and how it would like to respond to the change in 2025‑26. For example, the state could continue to operate the WINS program as is, regardless of the upcoming change, by continuing to provide $10 monthly benefits. Alternatively, California could plan to increase WINS monthly benefits in 2025‑26 to $35 to align with the new federal requirement. Finally, the legislature could eliminate the WINS program altogether beginning in 2025‑26, reducing about 125,000 WINS participants’ food benefits by $10 monthly, but generating about $25 million in annual General Fund savings. Additional details on the trade-offs for each of these potential actions will be provided in our upcoming post: Overview of the Federal Fiscal Responsibility Act’s Impacts on CalWORKs.