Lawsuit accuses county of violating state and federal laws mandating expedited processing of CalFresh food benefits
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County fails to comply with California’s requirement that counties expedite the processing of urgent applications for CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps). The neediest CalFresh applicants – those whose income is less than $150 per month and who have less than $100 in resources, or whose housing costs are more than their income and resources — are entitled to have their applications processed within three days. But in Los Angeles, thousands of vulnerable households are going hungry each month because the county fails to process their applications on time.
CalFresh is our first and best line of defense against hunger; if it doesn’t function properly thousands can be left with no means to get basic food. When someone is hungry, every hour matters. It’s unconscionable that in Los Angeles County, the most vulnerable people have to wait for weeks to get access to something as basic as food assistance.Frank Tamborello, Executive Director at Hunger Action Los Angeles
Now, two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food are suing the county, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.
Hunger is real, and it has gotten worse during the pandemic. These county delays make it harder for people — especially houseless people — to access food and take care of their health.Todd Cunningham, Food and Wellness Organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN)
The lawsuit — filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), and Peter Torres-Gutierrez —includes data showing the county has been in violation of both state and federal law for months. Federal law mandates that expedited food assistance benefits be provided in no more than seven days, and California sets the limit for urgent applications at three days. Counsel for Petitioners/Plaintiffs are PILP, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and Western Center on Law & Poverty.
This is the county’s self-reported data, and it’s staggering. Each time the county fails to process an application on time, it puts people in danger of hunger and pushes parents into a devastating struggle to provide for their children’s most basic needs.Alex Prieto, Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty
In September 2021, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline for nearly one-third of all eligible applicants, leaving over 4,900 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. In August, the numbers were even worse: the county left more than half of eligible households without access to CalFresh, forcing over 7,600 individuals and families to go hungry. Over the last year, the County has violated its duty to more than 54,000 households, forcing some applicants to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.
The harms that result when people—especially children—go hungry are significant and far-reaching. Even short periods of hunger can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. People who are eligible for expedited service CalFresh are already in desperate financial situations. We are bringing this lawsuit to force the County to comply with the law, to ensure that every eligible individual and family gets the food they need when they need it – and not a minute later.Lena Silver, Attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA)