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Activists Seek Aid For CA Women Ex-Inmates Facing 'Food Insecurity'

Deanna Mirabal was released from prison seven months ago, after 38 years of being locked up. She entered a world where resources for reentry to society are not necessarily easy to obtain. Mirabal’s biggest concern was how to apply for government food stamps while she searched for work and a stable place to live after her release from the Central California Women’s Facility. “Leaving the prison system was like entering another world that wasn’t real, but the basic needs like food were real,” said Mirabal, a San José native who was sentenced for taking part in a robbery that resulted in a murder she said she did not commit. “We would like people to be able to put themselves in our shoes. Without such necessary help as food, it is difficult for a woman like me to successfully reenter society.” Mirabal is one of the thousands of women who face food insecurity each year after release from the California prison system. Food insecurity can extend to family members of formerly incarcerated women and can spiral into other problems that increase the risk of recidivism, the Los Angeles Times reports. A 2019 report from the Prison Policy Initiative found that formerly incarcerated women, especially African American women, and Latinas, have much higher rates of unemployment and homelessness than do formerly incarcerated men.

In November, a coalition of California nonprofit organizations launched The Thriving Transitions campaign, which seeks to raise awareness about the effects of food insecurity on women exiting the penal system. Current law requires that food stamp benefits automatically stop when someone goes to jail or prison. Upon exiting the system, low-income people must reapply for CalFresh, California’s largest federally funded government nutrition program, which is administered by the California Department of Social Services.

CalFresh benefits are provided via an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which works like a debit card and can be used to buy food at participating grocery stores, farmers' markets, and other retailers. The amount of benefits varies based on factors such as household size, income, and expenses. To be eligible, households generally must have a gross monthly income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Some higher-income households also may be eligible if they have high housing or child-care expenses. The nonprofit coalition wants California to integrate the CalFresh application into the release process for formerly incarcerated women. Currently, the only help California offers for people with a criminal record upon release from prison is a $200 check to cover immediate expenses.


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