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College navigates food stamp acceptance on campus

At San Pablo, California’s Contra Costa College, questions have been raised by eligible members of the campus community as to why CalFresh benefits are not accepted at certain locations around campus.

The CalFresh Program is California’s branch of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The program is designed to provide monthly benefits to assist low-income households in purchasing the necessary foods needed to maintain nutritional health.

In general, the benefits cover any food or food product intended for human consumption, but as reported by Contra Costa’s student publication The Advocate, eligible students have little option to use their benefit card, with payment options at most of the college’s locations excluding the benefits program.

According to college officials, it’s not always up to the institution whether a dining location accepts Electronic Benefit Transfer as a payment tender. Electronic Benefit Transfer is the system used in California for the delivery, redemption and reconciliation of issued benefits. Recipients of public assistance in California access benefits via the Golden State Advantage card, colloquially called the EBT card. EBT cards are accepted at more than 15,000 businesses and over 54,000 ATM’S in California.

At Brix, one of the Contra Costa’s popular on-campus dining locations, it’s the vendor, not the campus, that determines whether to accept payments via the CalFresh benefits program. Elsewhere, at the college’s bookstore, EBT card payments are also not accepted for the simple reason that much of the bookstore’s merchandise doesn’t fall under the CalFresh benefit bracket.

Eligible students receiving CalFresh benefits are also eligible for a restaurant meals program, though this aspect of the program is carried out on a county by county basis, and there is currently not a program for Contra Costa County.

As another potential solution, the college’s Financial Aid department has been working with Contra Costa and Solano county food banks on a plan to bring CalFresh prescreening and food bank information to Contra Costa’s campus.

As for EBT card acceptance on campus, Contra Costa College president Mojdeh Mehdizadeh says that in order for any California college to accept CalFresh benefits on campus they need to first conduct a feasibility study before making a determination.

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