Code for America simplifies Californians' access to food stamp benefits with help from SVCF grant 

Food Assistance

As recently as four years ago, filling out the online application for food stamps in California took about an hour. People had no choice but to use a desktop computer, because the application didn’t work on mobile devices. 

In 2015 the nonprofit Code for America saw an opportunity to improve access to food stamp benefits in California and the organization transformed a cumbersome, complicated application into the easy-to-use GetCalFresh digital assister. And now, thanks to grant funding from SVCF, more Californians are learning about the improved application process. 

Using GetCalFresh, an application takes only 8 minutes and can be easily completed on any mobile device. The program even follows applicants throughout the application and eligibility process, sending text message reminders to help them keep track of interview times and documents they may need to upload.  

“People in need of government services are online,” says GetCalFresh’s Associate Program DirectorCaitlin Docker. "More than 40 percent of Google searches for food assistance occur on a mobile device, and our goal is to reach people when they're looking for help. The grant from the SVCF helped GetCalFresh scale to reach more than 37,000 people in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties with a message to check their eligibility and apply for benefits. This investment allowed us to gather (and share) critical learnings about reaching and supporting residents through a challenging time." 

Food Assistance Chart

Since 2009, Code for America has been working to help government effectively and equitably serve people who need it most, at the local, state and federal levels. The organization is focused on improving communities using the principles and practices of the digital age, in three high-impact focus areas: criminal justice, social safety net and workforce development.

“Code for America begins all projects by talking with users to understand their needs and any barriers to access that exist," says Docker. “We’re focused on improving outcomes and increasing the number of people approved for benefits like SNAP [food stamps], especially those in vulnerable positions, including college students and people experiencing homelessness.” 

The State of California currently covers about 90 percent of the operating cost of GetCalFresh, but doesn’t provide any funding for outreach. That’s where SVCF stepped in, providing Code for America with a $50,000 grant in 2018 from our financial stability grantmaking strategy, which focuses on helping low-income families access public benefits and support. 

The grant filled the need for funding to support digital outreach in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to spread the word about the new tool.

"Silicon Valley Community Foundation funded Code for America because GetCalFresh directly ties into one of the foundation’s strategic grantmaking priorities – Increasing Access to Public Benefits,” says Alexandra Bastien, SVCF’s financial stability program officer. “The site allows those who are more technologically savvy to use a time-saving tool, while allowing case managers to focus their efforts on people who may need more in-depth support. For SVCF, what makes the GetCalFresh project a success is that it increases access to one of the state’s largest safety net programs and it helps to keep thousands out of poverty.” 

In California, food assistance is administered at the county level, and GetCalFresh has been steadily expanding throughout California’s 58 counties since its launch. As of June 1 of this year, the GetCalFresh app is available statewide! 

Code for America also created a microsite dedicated to user stories about how GetCalFresh has helped a huge variety of California residents and why the benefit is important to our social safety net. 

“We’re proud to be able to demonstrate why Californians need food assistance,” says Docker. “We elevate our clients’ stories to challenge myths about public assistance and demonstrate that people who use GetCalFresh come from all different backgrounds.”

Learn more about SVCF’s Financial Stability grantmaking here