California Democrats again delay expanded food benefits for undocumented immigrants. Here’s why

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California legislation that would have expanded food assistance benefits to all undocumented immigrants won’t be moving forward this year.

Two identical measures, AB 311 and SB 245, have been made into two-year bills, meaning they won’t be taken up again until 2024. The decision follows advocates securing a win in the latest state budget, with the issuance of food benefits for older undocumented Californians being moved up to 2025.

That success, along with the acknowledgment that a full expansion would not be funded this year, led to the bills being postponed.

“The reality is that the bill, even if it makes it to the governor’s desk if it doesn’t have full funding, it might not get signed,” said Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, who authored SB 245.

Hurtado had introduced the measure for a second consecutive year. This year, she and advocates took a two-pronged approach with Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, introducing an identical version of the bill.

Together, the two lawmakers had hoped to continue building on the social safety net for the state’s roughly 2.3 million undocumented immigrants.

But lack of funding continues to be the main obstacle. Both lawmakers said they plan to move their bills forward next year.

“By no means is this fight done,” Santiago said. “People are hungry. We intend to make sure that food is accessible to all documented or undocumented.”

Anti-hunger advocates with the Food4All campaign have praised Newsom since June 2022 when California made history with an agreement to provide undocumented residents over 55 with food assistance. About 75,000 Californians are expected to start receiving benefits when the rollout begins in October 2025.

But advocates also question the age cutoff, noting that nearly half of undocumented Californians deal with food insecurity, according to an April 2022 report by Nourish California.

“It’s really resting on the governor that he supports Food4All and what it represents and laying out a plan for how we are going to get those additional age groups included,” Benyamin Chao, a health and public benefits policy manager at the California Immigrant Policy Center.

Brandon Richards, a spokesman for the governor’s office, did not respond to whether Newsom would consider expanding food assistance to undocumented people of all ages, instead the spokesman noted the recent investments aimed at older undocumented individuals.