CalFresh is a new title to the state's food stamps program, but it hasn't had the desired effect of bringing those who qualify to come forward.
Niccole Florence is one of a million Angelinos who rely on the program to put food on the table. The single mother of two teenagers understands why after she lost her job at Riverside Criminal Court earlier this year.
"It was difficult at first because of pride. I don't want to do this. I'm not supposed to do this. I am supposed to be able to hold my own," Florence, who lives in Long Beach, said. "I had to make a decision to feed my kids or sit and look curious," she added.
Florence cried before going to her local county office to apply for the benefits but found the application process was not difficult.
The down economic climate has increased the number of people who are eligible for the federally funded program, about a million in Los Angeles county. An average family of four receives $4000 a year. In October alone, more than $164-million was paid out in the county according to a report on the California Department of Social Services website.
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank works with the county to find possible CalFresh candidates. Food bank folks travel to local community centers like MEND or Meet Each Need with Dignity in Pacoima.
MEND officials say CalFresh supports the local economy. An estimated $1.8 million is spent at local grocery stores by the 200 CalFresh registered families from MEND.
Of the 500 food banks across the county, 200 locations have the outreach initiative with seven specific workers designated to help with CalFresh applications.
CalFresh is a needs base entitlement program and has no cap, according to representatives from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
"Our participation rate is at about 50% right now. A lot of those folks are working. They might have a job that won't give them the time off to make these multiple office visits, that are not open on Saturdays, that are not open after 5 o'clock," Jessica Jones-Greenholt from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank said.
"We help them fill out the full application. We actually submit that application to the office for them," Jones-Greenholt said.
Other local groups, like the Network for a Healthy California promote using CalFresh to purchase fruits and vegetables even in small shops like Mama's Chicken Store in South LA.
"That's one of the resources we let them know is available that they can have access, assistance so they can provide healthier choices," Ebone Fuller of Network for a Healthy California said.
Niccole's $500 a month CalFresh benefits, which are added to her personal EBT card, has helped her drop 60 pounds and create her own fitness training company, Fitt Nicc's Body Shop. She says she takes a shopping list to the grocery store, plans her meals ahead of time which allows them to last longer.
"I used it to get even healthier, one, which made me feel much better, made me even more confident to get me to want to do more," Florence said.
The time to complete an application is about one month. Restrictions, like finger printing to prove eligibility, have been eliminated under California Assembly Bill 6.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services which distributes the funds has added a method for candidates to directly apply for CalFresh on their website.
You can also call 1-877-597-4777 for more information.