• 03.02.11

CalFresh Is Totally Better Than Food Stamps: Rebranding Government Programs

Food Stamps in California have been rebranded to CalFresh. What other state programs should get a new, fresh name?

What is CalFresh, you might ask? Shame on you for not paying attention. It’s the new name for California’s Food Stamp program, launched just this past October. It parallels the renaming of the federal Food Stamp program to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Both programs have been renamed in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with the label “food stamps” and to emphasize the positive associations of using the program – access to fresh, nutritious food. Another obvious reason is that they aren’t stamps anymore – and “stamps” connotes rationing, scarcity, and the feeling of a mandatory and not too pleasant government control. In the case of CalFresh, a lot of effort went into making sure that the name appealed to the target audience (people who use the Food Stamp program) and that the name was in line with other California state programs like CalPERS, CalTrain, CalJOBS, etc.


Because of the success of the CalFresh brand, there was some talk at the Forum about the possibility of renaming other state programs, like welfare (which, in California, isn’t just one program, but a bunch of assistance offerings grouped under the general heading of Social Services). The word “welfare” has a ton of negative associations, the most famous of which is the myth of the welfare queen, used to great advantage by Ronald Reagan in his 1976 presidential campaign. (It’s a trifecta of stereotypes–racist, classist, and misogynist!) In the US, the word “welfare” is now shorthand used by conservatives to mean “money for poor lazy people”, something to be pared to the bone, if not eliminated entirely. Most of the rest of the civilized world sees it as something guaranteeing a minimal level of well-being and social support for all citizens.

Let’s think about renaming Social Security, since it appears to have the word “social” in it, which is TOO CLOSE to the dreaded “socialism” for some people, and it’s far from secure these days. Maybe we could call it PayItForward, or FutureLife, or NotEatingCatFoodWhenImSeventy.

Being a bleeding-heart socialist granola-eating Prius-driving liberal, I also have some suggestions for renaming the Republican party; unfortunately, since this is a family publication, I can’t share them with you here. But I will suggest Plutocrats, and it doesn’t mean they’re from that distant (former) planet. Although that would explain some things…