New identity verification regulations

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued regulations regarding identity verification for CalWORKs and CalFresh applicants.  These regulations repeal the finger-imaging requirement and replace them with a photo identification requirement.

Parents or caretaker relatives, each aided or applicant adult, and aided or applicant pregnant women must now provide photo identification.  Non-minor dependants, non-needy caretaker relatives applying for a relative foster child and applicants whose photo identification is part of a previous case file are exempt.  CalWORKs applicants will have 15 days from the date of application to provide photo identification.  The 15 days timeframe can be extended for good cause.  If after a good faith effort the applicant cannot provide photo id without paying a fee, the county must pay that fee.

Benefits can be issued prior to submitting the photo identification if the applicant is eligible for CalWORKs immediate need, the applicant does not have photo identification and signs a statement under penalty of perjury regarding identity, or if the applicant is applying remotely through telephone or other electronic means.  The applicant must provide photo identification within 15 working days or present evidence of good faith efforts to obtain photo identification for benefits to continue.  (ACIN I-66-19, November 15, 2019.)

SOGIE awareness during child welfare intakes

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance to child welfare services hotline social workers when receiving referrals alleging abuse related to a child or youth’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression (SOGIE).

If there is an allegation of abuse or neglect due to the child’s SOGIE the social worker should ask a list of specified questions.   Social workers must assess the threat to a parent or caregiver’s acts based on SOGIE may pose to the child’s safety and well-being.  Affirming or supporting a child’s SOGIE is not abuse or neglect.

The hotline worker should enter relevant information pertaining to SOGIE into the narrative section of the referral.  Hotline workers do not need to routinely complete the SOGIE data fields unless they have spoken directly to the child in a meaningful conversation about SOGIE.  Probation officers may need to cross report information to child welfare services and must consider SOGIE information when assessing families.

The child is the principle owner of their SOGIE information.  If it is unknown whether the parent or caretaker is aware of the child’s SOGIE, information should not be disclosed without the child’s.  The child welfare services agency must consider the need for privacy of the child’s SOGIE information prior to referring a parent or caregiver to a SOGIE-specific community resource.

Social workers who are first responders should be trained on SOGIE community resources and child’s privacy considerations regarding SOGIE.  (ACL 19-92, October 8, 2019.)

CalWORKs overpayment collection threshold and discharge

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding the CalWORKs overpayment collection threshold and discharge policies.  This guidance supersedes ACL 19-19.

Effective July 1, 2019, the overpayment collection threshold for closed CalWORKs cases is increased from $35 to $250. Counties cannot demand collection of any non-fraudulent overpayments with a balance of $249 or less if the liable individual is no longer receiving CalWORKs.  The $250 threshold includes claims related to Welfare-to-Work supportive services.  The overpayment collection threshold applies to each individual claim, not to the total of multiple overpayment claims.

There is also a new discharge process for CalWORKs overpayments.  If the liable individual has not received CalWORKs for 36 consecutive months or longer, the county must deem a non-fraudulent CalWORKs overpayment uncollectable and must discharge it.  This rule applies even when there is a repayment agreement or a civil judgment if the overpayment is non-fraudulent.  This discharge rule applies to each individual overpayment claim, not to the total of multiple overpayment claims.  Counties must send a notice of action informing individuals when they are no longer liable for the overpayment.

The discharge policy does not apply to cases where fraud is alleged.  If a fraud investigation is pending when the 36 month timeframe occurs, collection is placed in suspense until the result of the investigation.  Collection can restart if the investigation determines there was fraud.

The discharge policy is not effective until it is programmed into the new single statewide computer system CalSAWS. However, when the discharge policy is programmed into CalSAWS, counties must apply it retroactively to any outstanding non-fraudulent CalWORKs overpayments established on or after December 1, 1996.

In addition, effective July 1, 2019, counties must now report any mass overpayment of CalWORKs benefits to CDSS.  A mass overpayment is an overpayment caused by the same action or inaction that impacts either eight percent of the county’s CalWORKs caseload or more than 1,000 CalWORKs recipients, whichever is greater.

Also effective July 1, 2019, a civil or criminal welfare fraud action cannot be commenced if case record, or any consumer credit report used in the civil or criminal case for the purpose of determining the overpayment, has not been made available or has been destroyed after the three year retention period.

These policies also apply to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Programs.  (ACL 19-102, November 12, 2019.)

Housing and Disability Advocacy Program guidance

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued updated program guidance regarding the Housing and Disability Advocacy Program (HDAP).  HDAP offers funding to county agencies or tribal governments to assist homeless disabled individuals with applying for disability benefits programs while providing housing assistance.  39 counties currently have HDAP programs.  HDAP requires grantees to offer outreach, case management, advocacy and housing assistance concurrently.

Assistance should be provided until disability benefits are granted and the participant is stabilized in permanent housing. A dollar-for-dollar grantee match is also required.

There are several changes to the program because of legislation in 2019.  These changes include: 1) Funding is now available for federally recognized tribal governments; 2) Priority for assistance is for chronically homeless individuals or homeless persons who rely most heavily on government-funded services; 3) Programs can consider providing housing assistance after disability benefits are granted until housing placement is stable and affordable; 4) Case management staff must assist in developing a transition plan for housing support when disability benefits are granted or denied.

HDAP continues its principles of housing first, collaboration among programs and prioritizing assistance is for chronically homeless individuals or homeless persons who rely most heavily on government-funded services.  Providing services on first-come, first-served basis or by most likely to find housing is improper.

Required program components continue to be outreach, case management, benefits advocacy and housing assistance.  Limiting outreach to General Assistance/General Relief applicants or recipients is insufficient.

Additional program components include transition planning, workforce development for participants not likely to be eligible for disability benefits, interim assistance reimbursement, and data gathering.  (ACL 19-104, November 1, 2019.)

Resource Family Approval Program portability

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued answers to frequently asked questions regarding portability, the process for an approved Resource Family to seek streamlined approval with a subsequent agency that will best serve the needs to families and children.  The portability process is initiated only by the Resource Family.

Responses to the frequently asked questions include: the subsequent agency does not have a time frame to complete subsequent approval; subsequent agencies must accept portability applications; if the subsequent agency denies a portability application it must inform the current agency of the denial and if the county denies a portability application, it must provide a notice of action.

A new foster family agency must do a new criminal background check for the resource family.  If there is a pending investigation, the subsequent agency can complete portability, but the best practice is to wait until the investigation or administrative action is completed before moving forward to complete the portability process.  The current agency cannot charge the subsequent agency a fee to release records.  (ACL 19-97, October 30, 2019.)

Placement responsibility for non-minor dependants in extended foster care

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding extended foster care and placement responsibilities for non-minor dependents.   Extended foster care must be offered to all persons in the foster care system who turn 18 in order to continue to receive supportive services.  Young adults who decline extended foster care may be able to enter between age 18 and 21.

A placing agency must offer the least-restrictive, safe and appropriate available placement to non-minor dependents.  Placement should also be based on the developmental needs of young adults.  Non-minor dependents must be included in placement decisions.  The placement agency must offer a safe and suitable placement that is immediately available.

Counties must have a documented process for young adults seeking to re-enter extended foster care.  There should be no delay when an agreement to re-enter is signed and the agency determines the requirements to reenter are met. If at the time the agreement is signed the youth does not have safe, appropriate housing, the placing agency must immediately offer a placement prior to a re-entry hearing.

If a non-minor dependant is at risk of losing or leaving their placement, the case worker should try to engage the non-minor dependant.  The placing agency should work toward preserving and strengthening the placement.  If the youth loses or leaves placement, the county pleacement agency remains responsible for offering a safe and appropriate placement which the youth remains under juvenile court jurisdiction or is a party to a reentry agreement.  (ACL 19-105, October 29, 2019.)