How to Apply for CalFresh in California

If you do the grocery shopping for your house, you undoubtedly have noticed that grocery prices have gone up. If you are on a limited income, more expensive grocery bills mean you may have to go without, or other areas of your budget will suffer. However, if you are in financial need, you can get benefits like CalFresh to help put food on the table. 

If you want to know how to apply for CalFresh benefits in the state of CA, you’ll be happy to know it’s a relatively easy application process. You can apply online, in person, or with a paper copy of an application. If you don’t have access to a printer, you can call 1-800-281-9799 to request a hard copy of an application. 

What Is CalFresh?

CalFresh, formerly known as the food stamp program, is a federally funded benefit that provides monetary assistance for low-income individuals and families to purchase food. CalFresh can be used to purchase dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other grocery items. 

If you are eligible, you will receive a monthly benefit on an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card that you can use as a debit card at grocery stores and other retailers that accept EBT. There are some restrictions on what you can purchase, though.

Am I Eligible? 

CalFresh is only available to eligible residents of the state of California. Before you apply, it’s wise to determine if you think you may be eligible. You need to meet the following requirements to be eligible. 

Citizen/Immigration Status

If you are a non-citizen, you may get benefits if you are admitted to the country for humanitarian reasons or permanent residency. If you are a lawfully present immigrant, you can get benefits if you have been in the country for five years, are receiving disability-related benefits (regardless of the date you entered the country), or are a child under 18 years of age and have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the US. 

If you are an immigrant who has not been in the country for five years, you may be eligible for a program called the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP), a program funded by the state of California.


One of the main requirements for eligibility is income-based. Unless you have a household member over the age of 60 or a disabled household member, you are subject to the income requirements. 

The gross income requirements stipulate that households must not have a gross income level that is greater than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). If you meet this requirement, then you will be subject to the net income test. To calculate net income, the following deductions are subtracted from your gross income. 

Gross income limits include: 

Household Size                 Gross Income
1                                          $2,024
2                                          $2,744
3                                          $3,464
4                                          $4,184
5                                          $4,904
6                                          $5,694
7                                          $6,344
8                                          $7,064
Each Additional
Member                                +$720

The standard deduction is available to every household. For households of 1-3 people, the standard deduction is $164/month. For 4 people, it is $204 per month; for 5 people, it is $204 per month, and for 6 or more people, it is $234 per month. 

There is also an excess shelter deduction available in your monthly shelter costs (e.g., rent or mortgage) is more than 50% of your household’s income after the standard deduction. 

The standard utility allowance is allowed for households that pay utilities outside of their rent or mortgage payment. The current allowance is $415. 

limited utility allowance is for households with additional utility expenses outside of heating and cooling (e.g., water and sewer). This allowance is $130. 

telephone utility allowance is available for households that are not eligible for the standard or limited utility allowance but must pay for telephone service. This allowance is $18. 

If you are paying for childcare, you may be eligible for a dependent care deduction. This deduction applies if you pay for childcare to work or get training or education to prepare for employment. 

Finally, a medical deduction is available if you spend more than $35 a month on medical expenses. 

Exempt Income

Not all income is considered, however. The following types of income are not considered in your eligibility test: 

  • In-kind benefits (e.g., things like meals, clothing, etc. given to your household)
  • Vendor payments (e.g., someone outside of your household pays a third party for a household expense or repair)
  • Deferred educational loans, grants, and scholarships
  • Cash donations that are less than $300 a quarter
  • Infrequent income that is not more than $30 a quarter 

How to Apply for CalFresh Benefits in the State of CA 

If you think you are eligible, you should start the application process for benefits. The easiest way to apply is online on the CalWIN website. They also have an eligibility calculator to determine if you are eligible without even creating an online account. 

To make things even easier, you can download the CalWIN app and apply it from your phone. If you don’t have access to a computer or smartphone, you can call to get a paper application mailed to you. You’ll need to return this application via fax or in person at your local Social Services Regional Center. You can also go to your local Social Services Regional Center to get and complete your application. 

The county has up to 30 days to decide on your benefits, so you may not be able to get them the same day, even if you get approved in person. 

Review and Renewal

Once you are approved, you will most likely have to report your income and living situation 6 months after you first get benefits. Your specific county will specify when you need to report. You must also renew your benefits each year. 

This process is done through an interview that determines your continued eligibility. You’ll have to verify your address, family size, employment, income, property, household expenses, and your child’s or children’s school attendance at the interview. 

What Does CalFresh Include?

Your CalFresh benefits can be used to buy food at the grocery store, such as milk, eggs, dairy, bread, produce, and other grocery items. Grocery items that are excluded are prepared foods or hot foods meant to be eaten in the store. 

You cannot buy things like paper products, cleaning products, or health and beauty items. You also cannot buy any pet foods, vitamins, alcoholic beverages, or tobacco products. 

Some counties participate in the Restaurant Meals Program, allowing certain eligible residents to purchase food at approved restaurants that participate. This program is limited to those who are 60 years of age or older, those who are disabled, and those who are homeless. The counties that currently participate include: 

  • Alameda
  • Los Angeles
  • Orange
  • Riverside
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • San Luis Obispo
  • Santa Clara
  • Santa Cruz

More counties are joining each year, so if your county currently doesn’t participate, be sure to check back often.

How Much Will I Get?

The amount of money that you get from CalFresh depends on your income and your family size. If you are eligible, your monthly benefit amount, called an allotment, is calculated using the number of people in your household.

SNAP households are expected to contribute 30% of their own funds to food, so your allotment is calculated by multiplying your household’s net income (after all of the deductions listed above) by 0.3 and then subtracting that amount from the maximum monthly allotment for your household size. 

Those maximums currently are the following: 

  • 1 person: $234/month
  • 2 people: $430/month
  • 3 people: $616/month
  • 4 people: 782/month
  • 5 people: $929/month
  • 6 people: $1,114/month
  • 7 people: $1,232/month
  • 8 people: $1,408/month
  • For each additional person, add $176

These benefits will reload each month. 

Other Benefits You May Be Eligible For 

In addition to SNAP benefits, you may also be eligible for other assistance programs depending on your income, household, and needs.

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a benefit program for pregnant mothers and children under the age of 5 in their household. It provides vouchers to use for milk, dairy products, eggs, peanut butter, and other selected products, as well as infant formula. 

CalWORKs (TANF) is a cash assistance program for households with children under 18 or those over 18 enrolled in school full time. CalWORKS assists with household expenses, such as utilities, childcare, medical expenses, or other household expenses. 

The Lifeline Program provides free phone services to needy individuals who have their own phones. If you qualify, you can get free calling and text messages as well as free data.

Apply for CalFresh Today 

Now that you know how to apply for CalFresh benefits in the state of CA, you can help your family get the assistance you need. While you are applying, be sure to check your eligibility for any other assistance programs available to you. Don’t let these resources go to waste if you and your loved ones need them.