Bonta ‘food as medicine’ bill passes Assembly Health Committee

Assemblymember Rob Bonta discussing a bill on the assembly floor on Monday.

A bill to create a pilot program for some Medi-Cal recipients in Alameda County to receive healthy food was unanimously approved this week by the Assembly Health Committee.

The legislation, sponsored by East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta, envisions a “food as medicine” approach to help lower-income Alameda County residents who are struggling with chronic ailments, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, among other health issues.

The proposed three-year pilot would extend vouchers for low-income residents to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, other healthy food items, in addition, to “medically-prepared” meals and groceries.

The cost of the pilot program, Assembly Bill 3118, has not yet been analyzed by the state, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Food insecurity for low-income residents greatly increases the likelihood of poor health, increased hospitalizations, and the risk of chronic health issues, Bonta said.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors, which supports AB 3118, wrote, “The prevalence of underlying health conditions disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income households, making them particularly vulnerable for COVID-19-associated hospitalizations and death.” In turn, the pilot program would alleviate some health risks caused by COVID-19, the county wrote.

Following Monday’s 15-0 vote in the Assembly Health Committee, AB 3118 will be heard next at the Assembly Appropriations Committee