Mending the Net

Fixing the holes in California’s social safety net

SPUR Report
report cover white text on purple background with a photo of a crowd of people walking

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic and economic slowdown, California had the highest poverty rate in the nation: An estimated 4.4 million people are unable to meet their basic needs each day. For these millions of people, California’s network of public benefit programs helps put food on the table, provides access to healthcare and is a key part of meeting basic needs. Yet California’s public benefits systems do not reach every eligible person, with some programs missing over a million eligible people.

Public benefit systems are difficult to navigate, with separate application processes and decision-making timelines. These challenges have only been exacerbated by an influx of people who are newly eligible for benefits due to the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, increasing demand on already strained systems. This analysis looks specifically at CalFresh, the state system to provide food aid, CalWORKs, a cash aid program for families with minor children, and MediCal, the state’s Medicaid program. Streamlining the application process for these programs by adopting sensible application options, creating a one-stop-shop for public benefits applications and eventually automating the benefits processes would ensure that all Californians could to receive the public support they have a right to.