California's Coronavirus Food Security Efforts for Immigrant Californians

Friday, April 3, 2020

Resources available for immigrants.

We are all in this together. We stand with immigrant families and continue to advocate policy changes that ensure the health and well-being of ALL Californians. During this public health crisis and beyond, immigrant Californians should have equitable access to food resources and other vital services.

The COVID-19 public health crisis arrived in the United States, when immigrant health was already under attack by the federal administration’s anti-immigrant policies, like public charge, which is depressing immigrant participation in Medi-Cal, CalFresh, and other public programs. At the same time ICE continues to operate: taking individuals from their families and communities into detention centers, where poor living conditions put them at risk for COVID-19 infection while they await potential deportation. Amid these tensions, many of our immigrant families, friends, and neighbors now face reduced wages, job loss, and other hardships caused by this COVID-19 pandemic. Congress has passed and proposed legislation to aid individuals and families in this time of crisis. While these efforts provide some relief to children in immigrant households, many more immigrants are left out.

Here are some food resources that do not take immigration status into account.

“Grab and Go” School Meals

All children, regardless of age or immigration status, can receive “grab and go” meals during school and child care closures. Schools and community organizations across the state are operating meal sites. For the most up-to-date information on participating sites, families should contact their local school for free or reduced price meal availability in their area. The “CA Meals for Kids” mobile app is also available to help families find participating sites. In addition, a waiver is available to California meal providers to distribute meals to parents/guardians without the need to have children present.

For more information, see Resources for School-Aged Children on how California schools are responding to the crisis.

Pandemic EBT

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), signed into law March 18th, allows states to implement Pandemic EBT. Under the program, families whose children are eligible to receive free or reduced priced meals and whose schools have closed due to COVID-19 will receive an EBT card loaded with the cash value of the meals their children would have received at school. Eligibility for Pandemic EBT is based on a child’s eligibility to receive free or reduced price meals through the National School Lunch Program, which does not take immigration status into account. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) is working with the California Department of Education (CDE) to establish Pandemic EBT in our state. We will provide updates as they come. For more information read our joint Factsheet on Pandemic EBT authored by California Food Policy Advocates, Western Center on Law & Poverty, California Association of Food Banks, and SEIU California.

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

WIC provides healthy meals and support services for pregnant women, new parents, and children under 5. WIC services are safe, do not ask for immigration status, and are not a considered program under the new public charge test. This means immigrant families whose income has been affected by this crisis can seek WIC services, without fear of impact to their immigration status. The new WIC Card and WIC app has made participating in the program easier, as families no longer have to use paper vouchers.

During this crisis, WIC locations have procedures to help families get benefits as quickly as possible as some locations may be closed to the public. Immigrant families do not need to come in person to enroll. WIC is now enrolling families remotely by phone or online, and issuing benefits remotely.

To learn more about these and other available flexibilities visit CFPA’s coronavirus resource page for young children.

What about Public Charge?

On February 24th, the federal government implemented its public charge rule. While the change technically impacts a small number of immigrants who receive public benefits, fear of negative immigration consequences might still discourage others from seeking services in this time of crisis.

New guidance released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that prevention, testing, or receiving treatment for COVID-19 will not be considered under the new public charge test. Additionally, USCIS states that immigrants will have an opportunity to present evidence that their receipt of public assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic is not an accurate indication of their ability to support themselves under normal circumstances. This means immigrants can seek support during this crisis without fear it will impact their immigration goals.

For more information on the new public charge test and accessing healthcare during COVID-19, please visit the National Immigration Law Center's Access to Healthcare page.

Advocacy Opportunities

A Safety Net that Works for Everyone

CFPA will continue to work with immigrant rights partners to ensure that no one is left out of receiving food and vital services at this time. Many immigrants are on the frontlines as grocery workers, janitors, truck drivers, and port workers helping us put food on our tables, and they deserve the same ability. These essential workers and their families should not go hungry during this pandemic because of their immigration status.

COVID-19 Relief Bill Packages - On March 27th, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) was signed into law. While the Act includes many important provisions, it excludes many immigrant workers from receiving one-time cash payments and health care for the treatment of COVID-19. In order to receive this payment, all household members must have a Social Security Number. This means mixed-status families, which include U.S. citizen children, who work and pay taxes will not receive this economic aid. Any further COVID-19 relief legislation, should be inclusive of all immigrants. This crisis is hitting low-wage workers the hardest, putting many immigrants out of work who were already struggling to make ends meet. We stand with state and national immigrant rights organizations, and urge Congress to pass a COVID-19 relief package that safeguards the physical and economic well being of all immigrants, regardless of immigration status. No one should be left out of care and critical aid to combat COVID-19.

For the latest information on federal responses to COVID-19, please visit our Federal Updates page.

Food for All - The COVID-19 public health emergency highlights the critical importance of nutrition assistance programs -- at the same time it exposes the gap in coverage for millions of Californians who are ineligible for CalFresh due to their immigration status. While the state implements federal waivers to ease access to vital nutrition programs, we need to make sure immigrants are provided the same opportunity to remain nourished and healthy. We look forward to working with our state legislators and the Governor to address food insecurity among immigrant Californians during and after this crisis. Absent federal action to address the nutritional needs of ALL immigrants, California must step up to ensure no Californian goes hungry.

For more on challenges and opportunities to increase food access for immigrant Californians, please read the final report of the Food for All Stakeholder Workgroup.

Resources for Immigrants

Our partners at the California Immigrant Policy Center compiled this guide to help connect immigrants to whatever assistance they need during this crisis. We will continue to update this section as new resources become available.

Resource Guide for Immigrants in California

CFPA will continue to work with partners and legislators to ensure immigrants can seek food services and other social services in this time of crisis, that their personal information is private and secured, and that immigrants feel safe from immigration enforcement when receiving food services.

Questions? Contact: Betzabel Estudillo at 213.422.7833 or Gabby Tilley at 213.254.5123 or visit

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