Disaster CalFresh

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding Disaster CalFresh approval for Lassen, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Tehama and Trinity Counties.  People can apply for Disaster CalFresh from October 18 to 21, and October 25-26.

To be eligible for Disaster CalFresh, a household must have lived or worked in the disaster area at the time of the disaster, purchased or planned to have purchased food during the benefits period, experienced adverse effects because of the disaster, and meet the Disaster CalFresh income guideline. Households are eligible even if they are temporarily residing outside of the disaster county.  Adverse effects include food loss, loss of income, inaccessible resources or incurred disaster-related expenses.

The benefit period for people affected by the Dixie Fire in Lassen, Plumas, and Tehama Counties is July 14, 2021 through August 13, 2021. The benefit period for people affected by the Monument Fire in Trinity County is July 30, 2021 through August 29, 2021. The benefit period for people affected by the River Fire in Nevada and Placer Counties is August 4, 2021 through September 3, 2021.

Interviews should be in person when possible, but interviews for this round of Disaster CalFresh can be by telephone.  For online applicants, counties must make three attempts to reach the applicant for an interview, and provide a reasonable amount of time between each attempt.  The 72-hour period for counties to issue benefits begins when the telephone interview is completed.  All documents can be signed by telephonic signature.

A Disaster CalFresh household includes people who lived together, and purchased and prepared food together, on the start date of the disaster. A Disaster CalFresh household can include individuals who had been excluded from an ongoing CalFresh household at the time of the disaster such as ineligible students.

Disaster CalFresh has three verification requirements: identity, residency and loss or inaccessibility of resources if possible, and household composition and food loss when questionable. Verification of residency should be done from other sources such as a rent or mortgage billing statement, utility billing statement or identity document.  No specific type of documentation is required for verification.  Counties should assist households in obtaining necessary verification.

Authorized Representatives may be used for Disaster CalFresh following the same policy as regular CalFresh.

Ongoing CalFresh households are not eligible for this round of Disaster CalFresh because they are already receiving the maximum allotment for their household size because of the Emergency Allotment.  (ACWDL, October 13, 2021.)

CalWORKs eligibility for victims of the Fawn Fire in Shasta County

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) reminded counties about CalWORKs regulations and policies for processing applications and documents on behalf of disaster victims and evacuees.  An emergency proclamation has been issued for Shasta County because of the Fawn Fire.

Some evacuees will apply for CalWORKs in disaster counties or counties other than the county in which they live because of disaster related-relocation.  Counties will need to establish whether evacuees are from a county that has been designated a federal or state disaster, and whether other family members are receiving CalWORKs in that county.

Many evacuees will not have documentation.  If the applicant and the county make a good faith effort to obtain verification of identity, time on aid, and linking and non-linking conditions of CalWORKs eligibility and are unable to contact the evacuee’s financial institutions or necessary entities or institutions, the county must accept the evacuee’s statement signed under penalty of perjury.

CalWORKs recipients may be eligible for nonrecurring special needs payments because of emergencies such as damage to or loss of shelter because of fires.  Funds can be used to repair or replace clothing or household equipment, to provide assistance for damage to the home or to pay for interim shelter.  Nonrecurring special needs payments are a maximum of $600 for each incident.  An assistance unit is eligible if it has less than $100 in nonexempt liquid resources.

Federal disaster and emergency assistance, and comparable disaster assistance from state or local governments, and disaster assistance organizations, is exempt from consideration as income or resources.

Counties are encouraged to explore diversion eligibility for fire evacuees.

Fire evacuees are in an emergency and should be evaluated for an immediate need payment.

Because of the disaster, some income that evacuees had will no longer have income that can be reasonably anticipated.

Many evacuees will not be able to access, occupy or sell their property.  The county shall consider the ability to access or sell property and make a good faith effort to obtain needed verification or accept a statement signed under penalty of perjury.

A family is considered temporarily absent from their county if they expect to reunite within one calendar month.  Evacuee recipients can maintain a home in a different county if they intend to return to their home county within four months.

Counties should make a Welfare-to-Work good cause determination for evacuees.  Counties are encouraged to exercise flexibility in this regard.  Counties should determine if an applicant or recipient needs barrier removal services such as mental health services, housing support program, or temporary homeless assistance.  For homeless assistance, disaster is an exception to the once-every-12-month limit. (ACWDL, September 29, 2021.)

Extension of CalFresh Standard Medical Expense Deduction

The California Department of Social Services has provided policy guidance regarding extension of the CalFresh Standard Medical Expense Deduction (SMD).  The SMD waiver was scheduled to expire on September 30, 2021 and has been extended to September 30, 2025.

The SMD is a standard $120 per month deduction for households with an elderly and/or disabled member with verified medical expenses of at least $35 per month.  Households with more than $155 per month in verified medical expenses can deduct all expenses from their income.

If a household voluntarily reports and verifies an increase in medical expenses mid-period, the new deduction must be determined for the current and remining months in the Semi-Annual reporting period.

Failure to verify medical expenses is not a basis to deny or discontinue a case.

Countable medical expenses include the cost of health insurance premiums; co-payments for appointments or prescriptions; acupuncture, chiropractic or herbal treatments; health care supplies and equipment, incontinence supplies; maintaining care attendants, home health aides, homemakers or child care services that are necessary because of age, disability or illness; over the counter drugs, ointments, or other treatments recommended by a licensed health care practitioner (excluding nutritional drinks, other dietary supplements, and medical marijuana); eyeglasses, contact lens solution, hearing aids, batteries, dental care, dentures; costs of public or private car transportation to health care appointments or pharmacies at the federal mileage reimbursement rate; and any paid or outstanding medical bills for which there is no third party reimbursement (a bill can be averaged over the remaining months in the CalFresh certification period or claims in one month, whichever is better for the household).  (ACL 21-117, September 30, 2021.)

Extension of COVID-19 exceptions to IHSS program requirements

The California Department of Social Services has provided guidance regarding extension of COVID-19 related exceptions for self-attestation of In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) forms.  County IHSS offices should begin transitioning back to in-person initial assessments and reassessments when possible.  When initial assessments and re-assessments are in person, required forms should be presented signed and collected at the assessment.

However, when the applicant or recipient or someone in their household has been infected with, has symptoms of, or has been exposed to COVID-19 in the two weeks prior to the assessment or re-assessment, the county should use telephone or video-conference to conduct the assessment. In such cases self-attestation of documents is acceptable.  This policy will continue until the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency.  However, some forms cannot be self-attested.  Original signatures may be mailed to the county IHSS for the Request for Order and Consent—Paramedical Services (SOC 321), IHSS Designation of Authorized Representative (SOC 839); and the IHSS Recipient’s Request for Provider Waiver (SOC 862).

When the COVID-19 state of emergency ends, the county must require original signatures on new forms at the recipient’s next annual reassessment.

Counties could accept copies of provider identity verification documents until September 30, 2021. However, when closure of county IHSS offices is required by their local Board of Supervisors, counties can continue to accept mailed in copies or fax copies of identity verification documents until the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency.  When the state of emergency ends, all applicant providers will again be required to present original identity verification documents.  Providers who provide copies of their identity verification documents will not be required to present original documents.  (ACL 21-112, September 29, 2021.)

Compromise CalFresh overissuances for elderly or disabled households

The California Department of Social Services has issued guidance regarding its compromise policy for households with elderly and/or disabled members.  Counties will compromise Administrative Error (AE) and Inadvertent Household Error (IHE) overissuances for active and inactive households that include at least one elderly and/or disabled household member.  AE and IHE claims for active and inactive households consisting solely of members who are elderly and/or disabled at the time of discovery of the claim will be reduced by 100 percent.  AE and IHE claims for active and inactive households that include at least one elderly and/or disabled household member and only an elderly and/or disabled household member is responsible for the claim will be reduced by 100 percent.  AE and IHE claims for active and inactive households that include at least one household member is elderly and/or disabled and one who is not and the non-elderly or disabled household member is responsible for the claim will be reduced by 50 percent.

The date of discovery is the date the county determined that an overissuance occurred.

For active and inactive cases, counties must use the most recently verified information to determine household composition at the time of discovery.

Household members who become elderly and/or disabled during collection of an overissuance are eligible for reduction.  The household must inform the county and verify their elderly and/or disabled status verified by the county to have their remaining overissuance claim reduced.

Counties are only required to inform households of a reduction if the household’s claim is reduced by 100 percent on an already established claim.  No notice is required if a household’s overissuance is reduced by 100 percent prior to establishment of the claim.  Counties must give notice to households of a 50 percent compromise and of the remaining overissuance balance.

The new policy does not affect claims already in collection.  However, households can request a reduction if they become elderly or disabled after the new policy is in effect.

This compromise policy does not apply to overissuances incurred while waiting for a unsuccessful hearing decision.

This policy is anticipated to become effective in Fall, 2022.  CDSS will issue final guidance when the implementation date is determined.  (ACL 21-118, September 30, 2021.)

Two year timeframe to establish overpayment/overissuances

Current California Department of Social Services policy limits establishment of CalFresh overissuances to three years prior to the date of discovery.  (See ACL 18-99.)  Effective July 1, 2022, or when automation can be completed, whichever is later, counties can only establish nonfraudulent CalWORKs overpayments and CalFresh overissuances for two years prior to the date of discovery.  The date of discovery is the date the county determined by computation that an overpayment or overissuance occurred.  The overpayment/overissuance is considered established as of the date of the initial demand letter or written notice.

When a valid overpayment/overissuance is established, any overpaid or overissued benefits paid more than 24 months prior to the date of discovery cannot be included in the overpayent/overissuance claim.

The 24 month timeframe does not apply to fraudulent overpayment/overissuances.  A fraudulent overpayment/overissuance is an Intentional Program Violation.  An Intentional Program Violation can only be established by an administrative disqualification hearing finding that fraud has occurred, a signed administrative disqualification waiver, a criminal prosecution, or a signed disqualification consent agreement.

Counties can reclassify nonfraudulent overpayments/overissuances if the county later determines that fraud occurred.  An Intentional Program Violation can include overpayment/overissuances beyond the 24 month limit.  When reclassification occurs, the county must issue a new notice of action.  (ACL 21-109, September 29, 2021.)