Brief Meeting Young People’s Basic Needs through Strategic Partnership
Case Study of the Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency’s CalFresh (SNAP) Outreach Partnership with the University of California, Davis
Amelia Coffey
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An Urban Institute multiphase project has highlighted gaps and challenges in the safety net and identified promising strategies to ensure young people have the support they need to thrive. One core challenge is that many young people in need of assistance are ineligible for existing supports, or support is insufficient to meet their basic needs. One important strategy is developing community partnerships to improve safety net services for young people.

This brief—one in a series of three—presents a case study of one such partnership, between Yolo County, California’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), and staff at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), to coordinate outreach and improve access to nutrition assistance—specifically CalFresh, California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) among university students.

Why This Matters

The years young people move from adolescence to adulthood—roughly ages 14 to 24—are full of immense potential. Research shows that this is a critical period for brain development that, if properly nurtured, can set young people up for positive identity development and the self-direction needed to successfully navigate adulthood. With a stable foundation, adolescents can thrive and become healthy, productive young adults contributing to their communities. During this transition, access to food, housing, health care, and income can shape young people’s life trajectories and affect whether they meet their full potential. But significant inequities—particularly for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous young people—have contributed to far too many having insufficient access to supports for meeting these basic needs.

Key Takeaways

The UC Davis-HHSA outreach partnership has been instrumental in improving UC Davis students’ CalFresh take-up rates, thereby increasing nutrition assistance to students facing food insecurity. This strategy offers several key lessons for other agencies that provide safety net supports and are seeking to improve their services to help young people meet their basic needs.

  • Community partnerships can be complementary and mitigate capacity gaps. Strategic partnerships with entities set up to serve underserved young people offer an important opportunity to enhance services beyond what a single agency could accomplish. Agencies that administer safety net programs often have staff limitations and are not well placed to do intensive engagement with specific populations that may benefit from their services. The partnership featured in this brief demonstrates how working with a community partner that does specialized outreach and support with a population within the community can strategically increase capacity to reach that group. It also demonstrates how effective coordination across partners with different capacities can help each entity meet its goals more effectively.
  • Funding and policy challenges should not discourage innovation. HHSA, like many safety net agencies, faces funding limitations that constrain staffing and service capacity. Moreover, federal and state program rules limit which students CalFresh can serve and which students are eligible to receive benefits from HHSA. The county leveraged UC Davis’s funding for outreach around student resources to help overcome funding constraints and effectively communicate eligibility limitations and opportunities to students.
  • Achieving strong implementation takes time and a commitment to continuous improvement. County and UC Davis staff developed a working relationship over several years and identified ways to improve their processes to support more outreach and successful applications based on experience with the outcomes of increased outreach and consequent application volume. The partners have achieved a strong coordinated outreach model in large part because of patience, long-term staff buy-in, and commitment to continuous improvement.
  • Providing young people with lived experience leadership opportunities should be a top priority in improving safety net program access. The UC Davis team’s success employing young people as CalFresh outreach workers is likely transferrable to other strategies to improve outreach to young people. Young people with lived experience using safety net programs offer unique perspectives on how to reach other young people to provide information about program eligibility and the application process. They can communicate in terms other young people understand, anticipate their concerns and challenges, and determine how to reduce those challenges.
  • Nutrition assistance for students should accurately reflect need. Many students who struggle to access adequate nutrition do not receive support through public programs. Expanded CalFresh eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic provided needed resources to students and there was danger that termination of this funding would result in more hardship. California policymakers sought to fill at least part of this gap by passing a permanent expansion to student CalFresh eligibility in 2021. This expansion allows students to qualify for CalFresh through federal SNAP education and training opportunities by participating in a campus-based program designed to increase employability. The law requires California higher education institutions to certify such programs with the state. Other states might consider identifying similar opportunities to expand eligibility for federal assistance to meet local need.
Research Areas Children and youth Social safety net
Tags Transition-age youth Welfare and safety net programs
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
States California