Starting March 1, 2021, Orange County inmates can apply for CalFresh benefits (formerly food stamps) up to 30 days before their release under a pilot program recently approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Addressing basic daily needs to ensure a successful transition back to the community is part of an aggressive strategy to reform criminal justice in the county known as the Integrated Services Strategy.

“Over the past two years, through the Integrated Services Strategy, we have identified and addressed many gaps in Orange County’s criminal justice system to reduce relapse,” said Supervisor Andrew Do, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Orange County. “I am pleased that we have received a federal waiver of the CalFresh pilot program for the pre-registration of inmates. This is exactly the kind of change we need to create a more effective re-entry system. “

Under current law, detainees are not entitled to food aid. As a result, the inmates’ CalFresh accounts will be terminated by the Social Services Agency as soon as they are posted in prison. Without this program, these inmates will have to wait until their release to reapply for CalFresh benefits. As a result, a coverage gap occurs even when applied immediately after release, resulting in the lack of stability necessary for a successful transition back into the community.

Prior to the pandemic, about 40,000 people entered the Orange County’s prison system approximately 60,000 times in any given year. Almost half of Orange County’s prison inmates have a mental illness or a substance use disorder that requires treatment. A fifth of the inmates are homeless and many more are at high risk of homelessness. These numbers are even higher for high utilizers – 2,000 people detained four or more times a year.

“As a former deputy public defender, I know that many ex-inmates can struggle to meet their basic needs when released back into the world, often without work and sometimes without family support,” said Chairman Do. “The government should be incarcerated Setting up individuals for success after their release, and that effort must begin the moment they come into our care. “

In 2019, Chairman Do chaired the Orange County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for a year to identify loopholes in the criminal justice system and develop an action plan to address those shortcomings. This resulted in the Integrated Services Strategy, which was approved by the Board of Directors in October 2019.

The CalFresh pilot program for pre-registration of inmates falls under Pillar 4 (re-entry), Objective 2, Action Point 3 of the strategy for integrated services. The Orange County Social Services Agency took the lead in developing this pilot program and applied for federal approval from the California Department of Social Services.

The CalFresh pilot inmate pre-registration program is just one of many initiatives the Board has taken to promote access to food aid. In 2018, the Board of Supervisors launched the Restaurant Meals Program, which allows CalFresh recipients to purchase hot, nutritious meals in local restaurants. In its first full year of 2019, Orange County completed over 85,000 transactions with the Restaurant Meal Program, generating $ 889,000 in revenue for local businesses. In 2019, Chairman Do also organized several outreach events that helped hundreds of seniors sign up for CalFresh Benefits.

The above article was published by County Orange.

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