Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at the Brookings Institution, also said the changing face of poverty now increasingly includes the suburbs as well as inner-city neighborhoods. In California, inland cities such as Riverside and Fresno have seen rapid spikes in suburban poverty, she said, sometimes double the levels in urban areas. (In a report published this month, Kneebone also determined that Fresno ranked fifth nationally for neighborhoods with extreme poverty.)
Despite this grim news, California is making some strides towards helping those in need.
In October, for example, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law several bills that eliminated obstacles to CalFresh enrollment. Assembly Bill 6, for example, ended California's unusual requirement that mandated that everyone 18 and over in a household receiving CalFresh be finger printed. New laws have also ended a rule requiring CalFresh participants to file quarterly reports. Instead, California will switch to simplified semi-annual, or roughly twice a year reporting, beginning in 2013.
But there are still challenges and threats ahead.
"The recession has erased a lot of the social gains made during the 1990s, so it will take a number of years to make that up," said Caroline Danielson of the Public Policy Institute of California in Oakland. She also points to a need for smarter policies such as placing jobs closer to communities and public transit.
There is also concern that the current deficit reduction talks at the federal level could also add to the burden on households, increasing their need for supplemental help.
"The [deficit reduction talks] could reduce support for low-income families," Stanford's Wimer said. While the food stamp program may not be target, he added, related services such as a women and child component known as WIC could be on the chopping block.
"We'll have to see how it plays out," added CFPA's Sharp. "But right now there is extreme pressure on households and they are struggling to find adequate resources. It is certainly not unreasonable to try to close that 50 percent [CalFresh] gap."
This story was funded by a grant from the Sierra Health Foundation to do independent reporting on the topic of food access in California.