Drawing from her own experiences in overcoming social and economic obstacles, Esperanza Fonseca ’16—a fellow with the Women’s Policy Institute—was instrumental in the drafting and passage of a new California state bill, AB942, also known as the Access to Safe Food Choices and Food Security Act of 2019.
Through her fellowship—a policy and leadership training program where fellows are able to research, propose, and advance legislation—she was given the tools and opportunities to address an issue that spoke to her: providing nourishment for those in need.
Fonseca’s bill, introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Webber, will establish a statewide program that will allow homeless, disabled, or elderly recipients of CalFresh food benefits to purchase a hot or prepared meal from any restaurant throughout the state that decides to participate—something that was previous allowed in only 10 of 58 counties in the state.
“So what happens is that many people end up going to bed hungry because they have no place to cook food, store it, or even lack the ability to prepare it,” said Fonseca, who was once homeless herself. “We want to change that so that everyone—regardless of ability or housing status—can eat a warm meal with dignity.”
The journey to get this bill through legislation began at the Women’s Policy Institute, where Fonseca worked with a team of fellows and mentors to tackle economic justice issues in California. “I thought back to my experience of being on [food stamps] and not being able to buy a hot or prepared meal,” she said.
After hearing Fonseca’s story, the team decided this was an important issue to tackle. They conducted extensive research, met with legislative staff, and met with representatives of the California Department for Social Services.
“We wrote the policy language, asked around for a senator or assembly person to agree to introduce our bill, and then developed a coalition of community groups and a plan to push our through bill both houses and to the Governor’s desk,” explained Fonseca—who majored in feminist studies and liberation theology through the Whittier Scholars Program.
The bill has now been passed by both legislative houses and the final step is for the governor to sign the bill into law.
“It feels surreal that I was able to take my personal experience and create a policy solution to help others experiencing homelessness and relying on food stamps,” said Fonseca. “This is something that all of us can do and it just starts with getting a group of people together to name a problem and identify the solution.”
When she’s not working on the passage of the bill, Fonseca’s full-time job also revolves around social justice. She is currently a California senior organizer with United for Respect, an organization that works to ensure that all people, regardless of title, age, race, sex, sexual orientation, or disability are respected in the retail industry. In her role, she leads a statewide team that promotes a fair work week policy, holds Wall Street private equity firms accountable, and protects workers’ privacy and data rights.