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Chico State

Expanded CalFresh Eligibility Brings Food Access to More Chico State Students

Jaylen Kruth (left) stands behind a counter as she accepts a purchase by Josh Rodriguez (right) who is using his EBT card to pay. There are a variety of snacks on the counter.
(Photos by Jason Halley / University Photographer)

CalFresh has been a lifeline for first-year student, Josh Rodriguez, for as long as he can remember.

“My mom was born with a disability, so we’ve been using government programs to help us in purchasing food and housing,” the Yuba City native said.

While Rodriguez currently relies on the assistance his mom received for the family, he soon will be applying for CalFresh on his own.

Eligibility to CalFresh has expanded to allow more students to qualify for aid, said Amy Gonzales, program director for the Center for Healthy Communities at Chico State.

Assembly Bill 396, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom 2021, opened CalFresh eligibility to California community college and California State University students enrolled in credit and non-credit programs that have an employment or training component, like internships, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training.

Chico State’s list of approved programs grew from 16 to 129, including adding animal science and physics minors, as well as PATH Scholars. While the Chico State CalFresh Outreach Office is busy promoting this vital resource—including sending emails to students who may meet eligibility requirements—the service remains underutilized by students on campus and statewide.

“We want to get the word out that even more students are potentially eligible because of new state policies,” Gonzales said.

The California Department of Social Services reported that on average, more than 127,000 California college students receive CalFresh funds each year. However, it estimates that between 416,000 and nearly 700,000 students are eligible.

Emilio Ceja Guzman stands in front of a display of snacks inside a small market that sells organic, paleo, vegan, and other healthy foods.
Emilio Ceja Guzman searches for items to buy at Urban Roots, which is one of two locations on campus that accept EBT cards for payment.

CalFresh, federally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), gives qualifying candidates up to $281 a month to pay for groceries. The benefit is not just for families—college students have been eligible for about eight years. Benefits are issued on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that works like a debit card and can be used at most grocery stores. Chico State students can use their card at Urban Roots in the Bell Memorial Union and Butte Station. The year-round farmers markets on Saturdays and Wednesdays in Chico and Chico Natural Food Co-Op also accept EBT and offer additional savings.

Gonzales encourages students to think of CalFresh as financial aid that helps pay for food.

“There are lots of students who are working hard to get through school and just don’t have enough money to make ends meet,” she said. “This is where CalFresh can be so helpful. Between this fall and spring semesters, we’ve helped more than 1,400 Chico State students apply for benefits.”

Rodriguez said that even when his family went through hardships and trouble paying for housing or electricity, they continued to have food at home because of CalFresh.

Isa Cooks holds a drink and food items in hands while standing at the entrance of a small market and next to a poster that reads "All Payment Options Accepted. Including CalFresh."
Students can qualify for up to $281 a month to pay for groceries.

“My first semester, I tried to keep it quiet,” Rodriguez said of being a CalFresh recipient. “I didn’t want my friends to know, because usually when people hear you have EBT they’re like, ‘Oh you’re poor.’ But it’s just a resource that can help you access free food. If it’s there, why not use it?”

Emilio Ceja Guzman, a freshman English major, with an option in English education, learned about CalFresh and the Wildcat Food Pantry through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) during the summer before his first semester.

“They told us we could apply once we got to Chico State, so on day two of moving here, I applied,” he said. “I went to the CalFresh office and someone helped me complete the paperwork.”

A foodie, Ceja Guzman likes that he can buy produce and quality products at the Asian Market on Nord Avenue and Safeway—both stores only a couple of blocks from his dorm. He said he regularly composes dishes using ingredients like noodles, rice, kimchi, lettuce, mushrooms, and other in-season vegetables. He also adds quick microwaveable meals to his grocery list for those days when his schedule is full.

“I’m not eating like a starving college kid,” he said. “(CalFresh) gives me the option to make better choices. It also allows me to save money on groceries. I’m so thankful I have it.”

Ceja Guzman encouraged his roommates to apply for the benefit and two of them now are also recipients. The group plans grocery store trips together and potluck nights, each using ingredients they purchased with CalFresh funds.

Students who want to know if they’re eligible for benefits can visit the CalFresh Outreach Office in the Student Services Center Room 190A. The office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and walk-ins are welcome.

“I want students to know that we are here to support them through this process. Going to college is hard enough without having to worry about how they are going to afford to buy groceries,” Gonzales said. “We’re your safety net.”

Places you can use your CalFresh EBT card:

  • Urban Roots in the Bell Memorial Union
  • Butte Station near Butte Hall
  • Saturday Farmers Market in downtown Chico (benefits are matched between $10 to $15)
  • Wednesday Farmers Market at North Valley Plaza on East Avenue (benefits are matched between $10 to $15)
  • The Chico Natural Food Co-Op in downtown Chico (students can receive 50% off locally grown fruits and vegetables when they use their EBT card)
  • Asian Market on Nord Avenue
  • Most grocery stores

Facts about CalFresh

  • If eligible, you could receive up to $281.
  • Receiving CalFresh will NOT affect your financial aid.
  • You can use your benefits all year! They are not tied to the academic calendar.
  • You can use your EBT card to purchase fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, breads or cereals, and start-up edible plans.