Groups Take Legal Action Over Alleged CalFresh Benefit Delays

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one recipient under the CalFresh monthly food benefit program today took legal action against the county, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

The petition, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network and 18-year-old CalFresh recipient Peter Jeovanny Torres-Gutierrez of El Monte, alleges the county has violated state and federal law for months. Federal law mandates that expedited food assistance benefits be provided in no more than seven days, while California sets the limit for urgent applications at three days, according to the petition.

A county representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

``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,'' said Frank Tamborello, executive director at Hunger Action Los Angeles. ``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.''

Hunger is real and has gotten worse during the pandemic, according to Todd Cunningham, LACAN food and wellness organizer.

``These county delays make it harder for people, especially houseless people, to access food and take care of their health,'' Cunningham said.

In September, 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, the petition alleges. The numbers were worse the month before when the county left more than half of eligible households without access to CalFresh, forcing over 7,600 individuals and families to go hungry, the petition states.

The county has violated its duty to more than 54,000 households during the last year, forcing some applicants to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance, the petition states.

``This is the county's self-reported data, and it's staggering,'' said Western Center on Law & Poverty attorney Alex Prieto. ``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.''

The harms that result when people, especially children, go hungry are significant and far-reaching, said Lena Silver, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.

``Even short periods of hunger can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual's physical and mental health,'' Silver said. ``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.''

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