San Diego's unemployment rate is at a record high. More than 30 percent of the county is out of work and looking for some help during the coronavirus pandemic. One place people are turning is to California's food stamp program CalFresh.
"You can have income and still qualify for CalFresh," said Assmaa Elayyat, the chief of agency operations at San Diego's Health and Human Services Agency. "I think that's one of the big misconceptions people have."
Elayyat says there has been a spike in the number of CalFresh applications in San Diego. More than 337,000 people used the program already, but in the last two months there have been more than 40,000 new applications.
To qualify for CalFresh, a family of four must make under $4,300 each month. If you recently lost your job, Elayyat says it doesn't matter how much money you were making before.
"We would not look back in time at what income they made," said Elayyat. "We really would assess where they are at right now and potentially in the future, what they anticipate their income will be."
The maximum benefit that would be given to a family of four is $650, and the maximum benefit for an individual is just under $200.
"We look at things like rent and utilities, childcare expenses, and medical deductions," said Elayyat. "If you have expenses for those things there's definitely an ability to collect more benefits."
Elayyat says she doesn't understand why people are hesitant to use the program if they need help for a little bit of time.
"The program is there, the income limitations are there," said Elayyat. "So if someone truly does qualify for the program there is no real reason for them to not use these benefits to help themselves or their family."
It takes about two weeks to be approved for CalFresh if you qualify. Then you are given a card which will have the money loaded onto it. The card will not work for purchases of tobacco or alcohol, but is now accepted for grocery delivery at both Amazon and Walmart.
The application is long, but Elayyat hopes it doesn't scare people off.
"We do ask for quite a bit of information on the application," said Elayyat. "Really it's to make sure that we're giving the families and individuals the real amount of benefits they are eligible to have."
If you think you might be eligible for the program, you can learn more on the San Diego County HHSA's website.
"Really what these safety net programs are here for is for these difficult times when someone needs a little bit of help for a couple of months to pull through," said Elayyat.