The line for food outside the Mission YMCA, Jan. 31, 2023. Photo by Joe Eskenazi

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“I know how to make ends meet,” assures San Francisco native Erica Patton. “I know how to buy things that will last.” That’s a skill that Patton, 42, who lives in Bayview, wishes she didn’t have to dust off. 

But with some 70,000 San Francisco households — constituting around 100,000 people — set to have their CalFresh food benefits deeply slashed next month, she does. 

The new U.S. Congress has opted not to renew pandemic-era food-benefit augmentations, which will expire next month — and, in April, families like Patton’s will notice a hefty loss of resources. The San Francisco Human Services Agency estimates that the average San Francisco CalFresh-eligible household will receive $160 less per month, a roughly $11 million-a-month drop in the city alone. 

In the early days of the pandemic, both the minimum and maximum CalFresh benefits were significantly raised; the $23 minimum per household was roughly quadrupled. Come April, many San Francisco families will revert to receiving just $23 a month. 

This may be the most pressing governmental consequence of the expiration of both federal and state covid emergency measures. In San Francisco, more than 100 mayoral orders issued during those states of emergency have been terminated.

“I hate to see it go. I do need it. But God bless the USA they gave it to us at all,” says Patricia Carr of the additional CalFresh benefits. The 73-year-old, diabetic wheelchair-user requires a special diet. It’s now not clear she’ll get it. 

“It’s going to be a lot less” money, says Carr, who lives in low-income housing at Valencia and 14th streets. “With CalFresh, I bought foods I could cook for myself, or pre-made meals I just had to stick into the microwave. But if they have to cut back, so be it.” 

Graphic by Chuqin Jiang.

The precipitous drop in CalFresh funds is expected to create a cascading effect. Hungry area residents will hit food pantries in even greater numbers, at a time when food pantries are struggling with a significant loss of buying power due to inflation and increased food costs. 

“We expect the food lines will triple when this goes into effect,” said Tracy Brown Gallardo, the chair of the Latino Task Force’s health committee. The LTF’s Roberto Hernandez adds that eggs are now hitting $10 a dozen. 

The city, facing a roughly $750 million looming budget deficit, is not necessarily in a position to backfill the federal government’s cutbacks and increase contracts for food providers.

CalFresh benefits, which are derived from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, aren’t provided to hungry families due to mere altruism or empathy. They also function as a de facto subsidy for grocery stores and agricultural producers. And with less money being placed in consumers’ hands, area stores are set to feel the pinch, too.

“A lot of my customers depend on this,” says Ishmael Ahmed, the manager of the Evergreen Supermarket on Mission Street between 21st and 22nd streets. “This is definitely not good. I’ll definitely take a hit.”

He’s not alone. Staff at the nearby Mi Ranchito on Mission near 18th Street estimated that 100 people a day use CalFresh at the store: “It’s gonna be less for everybody, not only less for us.” 

“We expect the food lines will triple when this goes into effect.”

Tracy Brown Gallardo, chair of the Latino Task Force’s health committee.

Geoffrea Morris, a food justice activist from the city’s southeast, predicted yet another dire consequence of the slashed CalFresh benefits. Without money in hand to purchase healthy foods from area markets, she foresees more people attempting to get the most bang for their buck by buying less-nutritious food. 

“With these cutbacks , the option of picking up nutrient-rich foods is out the window — and places like McDonald’s sell inexpensive food,” she says. “We’ll see our population getting sicker. It’s a travesty: Inflation is hitting families at the hardest time, and the government is pulling back when it should be giving more or making it permanent.” 

The line for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank pantry on May 5, 2020. The line began on Dolores Street and wrapped around 18th Street to the end of the block. Photo by Lydia Chávez.

For Erica Patton, who has three growing boys at home, these are stressful times. “The price of everything is going up,” she says, “but pay wages are not going up.” 

“Thank God I am working,” she continues. “I am just going to have to prioritize and make sure I am properly budgeting money so I can provide for necessities, like meat and eggs. My kids do love eggs.” 

It’s not going to be easy. The extra food money helped a great deal. But now that’s done with. 

“You would have something to put in the fridge,” she says, “versus the fridge being empty and having to wait until you got paid.” 

Additional reporting by Lydia Chávez, Annika Hom, Chuqin Jiang and Yujie Zhou.

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. ampers,

    It wasn’t worth it for this 78 year old vet.

    They contracted with some ad firm or something that kept sending me letters telling me I was eligible for Snap and I’d get about $170 a month.

    I finally applied (they got bonus for recruiting me) and actual benefits were $17 a month.

    OK, so I banked it cause I hated using card (stamps before were worse) … hated having people see I was poor in the checkout line so I only used it every 6 months or so when it was a hundred or so.

    They complained !!

    I used the card on a camping trip up North once and they asked if I’d moved; couldn’t believe they tracked where I spent restricted money of seventeen bucks a month.

    Then, they made me submit complete packets of all new paperwork every 6 months.

    Occasionally, they’d change the award to a dollar more, or $18 a month which would make my overall household income (sgl male) off by a dollar and believe it or not, that’s enuff to make you lose your housing.

    I was frantic with this crap for a couple of years and couldn’t figure out why they’d subject me to this degree of expensive oversight paperwork for such a trivial amount.

    So, I asked the Russians at Google and they explained that (in so many words) that the vendors for Snap were getting XXX amount for each needy household they recruited and on the other end they got a bonus for cutting ‘dead weight’.

    I’d been afraid to drop the program but finally did with no consequences.

    God and Mitch McConnell are the only ones who know what the United States Government spent on my case where I didn’t want or need 17 bucks a month but they insisted and then they went to lord knows the paperwork and clerical time not just for the government but from the bank who got used to seeing me.

    The chosen vendor was getting money to both build and winnor the list.

    It reminded me of Milo Minderbinder both attacking and defending his own air base.

    But, at a Profit !!

    As with all government work, someone will always find a way to scam it and sometimes politicians will write the scam right into the devil’s details of the original legislation for their friends or …

    In the case of Laguna Honda, they amended the FDR/Truman/JFK/LBJ/Carter Medicare law to give the Disburser the power to close an entire First Class hospital.

    On an aside, I assume this vote to deprive the needy of food went down on a straight Party-line vote ?

    Go Niners !


  2. blaming destitute families in need of assistance for the current high inflation, attributing poverty to spending taxpayer money and lastly linking work ethics to that assistance really shows some reader’s ignorance.

  3. We now know that the extreme spike in sending taxpayer dollars to people during the earlier waves of the pandemic caused inflation that hurt people MUCH more than the welfare helped them. All welfare should be time-limited, targeted, and temporary. While someone who lost his job during the massive trump recession at beginning of the pandemic probably did need and deserve some help, it has been 3 years. We need to reduce taxpayer spending and the inflation, dependency, and poverty that it caused. It may sound mean, but this reduction of welfare payments that have caused inflation and reduced the incentive to work is needed and overdue.

  4. Joe-
    Why are you quoting people who ignore math and clearly never took a home economics class?
    “Geoffrea Morris, a food justice activist from the city’s southeast, predicted yet another dire consequence of the slashed CalFresh benefits. Without money in hand to purchase healthy foods from area markets, she foresees more people attempting to get the most bang for their buck by buying less-nutritious food. ”

    The reality is that anyone who buys less nutritious food to save money is doing it wrong. This activist should be spending their time teaching one simple rule; price per package is not the same as cost per calorie.

    When somebody buys a .99 fast food item rather than buying the ingredients for making that same item to “save money” They are often spending several times as much for the same nutrition.

    This should be elementary, but somehow, it isn’t.

    1. Alfred, do you realize “home economics class” hasn’t existed in over 30 years? If you’re going to be obtuse and reductive about the immense difficulties of getting cheap, healthy food, at least reference things that actually exist in this decade.

      1. I know very well that home economics got dropped, and it was a short sighted decision. And I know very well about the details of how to get cheap, nutritious food on the table. That’s my point.

        Let’s do an exercise, you and me. You suggest a “cheap” meal plan that involves buying items that have a low per item price. Then, I will duplicate the nutrition in your meal plan using “home economics”; buying in bulk, choosing items based on calories per dollar, incorporating a variety of basic ingredients and relying items that qualify for the California Market Match that gives a 1 to 1 additional credit for California grown fruits and vegetables.

        My meal plan will be more nutritious and come in under the $281 maximum single person EBT allotment. Yours won’t.

  5. I’m 72 an had my food stamps cut from original $300.00 to just $23.00 because I had to move an hour away for an affordable apt. Thru no fault of my own! That extra help should be the norm, not an exception. Where has our humanity an communities gone?????? We have to UNITE for a voice of reason.

    1. I have a cow’s dairy allergy and lactose and sodium caseinate is in all processed foods. Going to St Anthony’s or Glide won’t guarantee that the food is safe to eat….so I struggle and make due with what I have. The pandemic SNAP made a big difference. Hoping that the government officials rethink this unfortunate decision.

  6. We middle class and Poor that the Foodstamps going away and in March the Rent since Covid March 2020 our Rent has gone up next month for low Income go from $518.00 Too $569.00 how we all going too Survive.

  7. Well That’s our government for us we live in one of the richest countries in the world and like how we treat the people who live in it that tells you a lot about the politicians that run this country and shouldn’t be some sort of benefit based on the fact that it had anything to do with the bogeyman virus! The extra money they were giving people should be around all the time even based on inflation they should not be taking their benefits away I think it’s really disgusting! Far as eggs and meat go I’m vegan and you can easily eat egg alternatives or just don’t eat them at all I’m just trying to remember where they come from and is really gross so if you just think of that then people probably wouldn’t want to eat them if they knew where it came from and you don’t need eggs to bake either ready mini many vegan cake recipes and cookie recipes that you can use mine are fantastic and I never hear complaints and people can’t even tell the difference you don’t need eggs for anything unless you want sunny side up eggs ! Just go vegan eat plant-based it’s better for the environment anyway better for your health and it’s certainly better for the poor innocent baby animals that are forced to give up their lives so people can enjoy eating their bodies and their secretions and it’s just completely unnecessary to survive! I’ve been vegan 15 years and I’m perfectly fine!

    1. Yep, that’s the solution alright. Make everyone on SNAP eat vegan. People on food stamps should not buy expensive foods like eggs and meat.

    2. “Land of the free” does not mean free stuff. It means the freedom to make your own choices. The US is one of the wealthiest nations on earth, but that is not the issue, it has has millions of the most personally irresponsible people on earth. That is the issue. Just think if all the billions spent on illegal drugs were instead spent on healthy food…

    3. 63% of all animals eat other animals. It’s a food chain planet. Your ideology needs to find a better planet to fit into. Good luck.

  8. This is absurd. Why in the world would you stop these benefits with inflation doing what it’s doing? Everything is going up and you guys are cutting back? Make the increases permanent so people can feed their families properly please. Thank you

  9. Nope. This is baloney. CalFresh is funded by the State:

    “Is CalFresh a state or federal?

    The State of California provides state-funded CalFresh food benefits through the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for qualified non-citizens who do not qualify for federal benefits.” (,not%20qualify%20for%20federal%20benefits)

  10. It’s pretty strange how for large chunks of the pandemic the federal government backstopped an eye watering amount of social aid: two super doles, world-beating unemployment benefits, expansions of social programs like EBT, forebearance of all kinds, and this showed up in household balance sheets as unprecedented improvement to financial conditions of all strata, yet the local social problems we blame on poverty have never been worse.

    1. I tend to agree. This puzzles me. 100,000 recipients in a city of 800,000? That’s huge and sad. I’m still struggling with San Francisco’s department of homeless budget of close $80k annually per unhoused individual. Could some of that budget be shared to augment CalFresh–in an effort to forestall potential homelessness? How do thousands of families in the Valley who earn less than $80k manage to house themselves and feed, clothe, nurture and educate their children?

      1. I do not think that that is the amount per un-housed person spend. Keep in mind, most of the budget is actually paying to provide homes for previously un-housed folks, this is not what we are paying per person you see on the street.

  11. A single person cannot earn over $1472 a month to get SNAP (gross).
    And they get a whopping $23 benefit at that level. If poor folks had better food they would be healthier and we would end up saving a lot of money in the long run. But never expect the Feds to be logical.

  12. I’m shocked that 100k San Franciscans even qualify! You have to earn less than $399 a week to receive a penny in food stamps. WHO IN SAN FRANCISCO who isn’t houseless is earning less than $399 per week? My rent alone is $1550. Higher than the income threshold. The threshold is outdated, at 27k a year and must change. More houseless coming across USA. Congress don’t care.

    1. The rate of households received food stamps is quite low in SF, so it’s presumably overcrowded homes with many kids who are qualifying. That and the usual amount of fraud of any such program, esp in a city where the infrastructure to apply and the associated protections (eg additional tenant protections) can be quite accessible and lucrative.