CalFresh ABAWD Handbook 2.0

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued version 2.0 of the CalFresh Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) Handbook.  Federal law limits Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (CalFresh in California) benefits to 3 months in a 36 month period for ABAWDs unless a waiver applies.  The handbook includes a general overview of the ABAWD time limit, guidance on ABAWD exemptions, and how ABAWDs subject to the time limit may satisfy the ABAWD work requirement.  The handbook also addresses counting months of ABAWD participation, losing and regaining CalFresh eligibility, and the system California uses to track an ABAWD’s eligibility and participation through the 36-month period.  (ACL 19-93, September 12, 2019.)

CalFresh ABAWD waiver

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding the new federal waiver of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Able Bodied Adults Without Dependants (ABAWD) time limit.  The new waiver is effective September 1, 2019 through August 31, 2020.  52 counties qualify for waiver of the ABAWD three month time limit.  Six counties must implement the ABAWD time limit: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.

Counties with a waiver must continue to report work registrant, ABAWD, and Employment and Training data quarterly. Counties with a waiver must continue to sanction CalFresh work registrants who voluntarily quit a job of 30 or more hours per week or which provides earnings equivalent to federal minimum wage times 30, or who reduce weekly hours worked to less than 30.

Individuals who were previously discontinued for failure to satisfy ABAWD work requirements and subsequently reapply for CalFresh in a county with a waiver are eligible for benefits. CalFresh Employment and Training, and voluntary quit sanctions, do not stop when an individual moves to a county with an ABAWD time limit waiver.  (ACL 19-96, September 20, 2019.)

Additions to Resource Family Approval program

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided information about additions to the Resource Family Approval (RFA) program made by AB 1930.  The RFA program created a new approval process for foster family homes, relative and non-relative extended family members interested in caring for children in foster care.  AB 1930 made three changes to the program.

First, AB 1930 extended the Foster Family Home and Small Family Home Insurance Fund to resource families.  The fund covers claims for bodily or personal injury to foster children during the foster care relationship.  Previously the fund only applied to foster family homes and small family homes.

Second, AB 1930 provides caregiver immunity for any act or omission made by the caregiver when acting as a reasonable and prudent parent, and for any act or omission of a child or nonminor dependant while in the caregiver’s home.  Immunity does not apply when the act exceeded a caregiver’s duty, the act was made with malice or bad faith or was the result of recklessness or gross negligence of the caregiver, the act or omission did not comply with instructions from the county placement agency, and when liability is expressly imposed by another statute.

Finally, AB 1930 created exceptions to confidentiality of the RFA Written Report, including authorizing release to the applicant or resource family, a tribal agency, a county child welfare agency or probation department, CDSS, a licensed foster family agency, a county adoption agency, a licensed adoption agency, or the child welfare agency of a sending state.  (ACL 19-72, August 26, 2019.)

CalFresh and CFAP ABAWD percentage exemptions

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has guidance regading percentage exemptions from the Able-bodied Adults Without Dependants (ABAWD) work rules and time limit for CalFresh and the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP).  Federal law gives each state a number of exemptions from the ABAWD rules equal to 12 percent of the state’s annual caseload.  These percentage exceptions allow counties to extend CalFresh eligibility to ABAWDs who would otherwise be ineligible.  Each percentage exception gives one full month of eligibility to one individual subject to the ABAWD time limit.

In general, CFAP recipients are treated the same as individual receiving CalFresh, including application of the ABAWD rules.  Individuals at risk of losing CFAP benefits because of the ABAWD time limit may receive a state-funded percentage exemption.

Any ABAWD who is temporarily excused from meeting work requirements under a percentage exemption remains subject to the ABAWD time limit rules and must meet work requirements, qualify for an exemption, or reside in an area where the ABAWD requirements are waived to continue receiving CalFresh or CFAP after their percentage exemption expires.

California has a three step process before applying a percentage exemption.  First, counties must screen for an exemption for the ABAWD time limit at application, period report and recertification using information in the case record and individualized assessments.  Second, counties should engage ABAWDs to support them in finding additional work and/or participating in qualifying work activities, including referral to local workforce partners, volunteer activities or other training or education programs.  Third, the county can provide a percentage exemption if the individual meets additional criteria as determined by the county.

The counties implementing the ABAWD time limit between September 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019 were San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.  Any CFAP percentage exceptions remaining after August 31, 2019 will be recouped and redistributed among all counties implementing the ABAWD time limit effective September 1, 2019.  (ACL 19-60, July 2, 2019.)

CalFresh cost-of-living adjustments

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued the CalFresh cost-of living adjustments (COLA) for Federal Fiscal Year 2020. The COLA increases the Maximum Shelter Deduction, the Homeless Shelter Deduction, the Standard Deduction, the Standard Utility Allowance, the Limited Utility Allowance, the Telephone Utility Allowance and the income eligibility standards.  The COLA is effective October 1, 2019.

Counties must inform all CalFresh households of the COLA and the new utility deduction amounts no later than October 1, 2019.  Counties may use an informing notice, or can use news or media outlets and post information in certification offices, issuance locations and other sites frequented by CalFresh recipients. (ACIN I-54-19, August 21, 2019.)

Verifying shelter costs for CalFresh excess shelter deduction

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued instructions implementing AB 494 that requires counties to accept shelter costs reported by a CalFresh applicant or recipient on a signed application, periodic report or recertification.  Counties cannot request additional verification unless the expenses reported are questionable.

Counties must deduct the actual amount of the household’s monthly shelter costs in excess of 50 percent of their income after all other deductions.  The excess shelter cost deduction cannot be more than the current maximum unless the household includes at least one elderly and/or disabled member.

Allowable shelter costs include rent, mortgage payment, loan payment on a mobile home, condominium and homeowner association fees, property taxes and insurance on the home.

To be considered questionable, information reported must be inconsistent with statements made by the applicant or inconsistent with other information received by the county.  If the reported shelter expense is questionable, the county must verify it before allowing the deduction.  Counties cannot require a specific document or type of verification.  Acceptable verification includes rental agreement, rent receipts, mortgage bills, property tax assessment, home or renter’s insurance bills, hotel receipts, cancelled checks or copies. The reason a reported shelter cost was determined questionable, the request for verification, and any verification provided by the household, must be documented in the case file.  (ACL 19-86, August 21, 2019.)