Limitations period for collecting CalFresh overissuances

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) informs counties that they must stop all noticing and collection efforts for CalFresh overissuances except for Treasury Offset Program, when a claim has been delinquent for three consecutive years.  This letter supercedes Manual of Policy and Procedure Section 63.801.53 which does not comply with federal regulations.  This applies to all CalFresh overissuance types.

A CalFresh overissuance claim is delinquent if the claim has not been paid by the due date and payment arrangements have not been made, or a repayment agreement has been made and a payment not made.  A claim is established when the initial notice of action is sent to the household.  When the claim is established, the household has 30 days to respond to state how they have chosen to pay or to request a hearing.  If a household that is no longer receiving aid does not respond in 30 days, the claim is delinquent.

A claim is not delinquent if it is being paid through a repayment agreement or through allotment adjustment.  A claim is delinquent on the date of a missed installment payment.  A claim remains delinquent until either a repayment agreement is established or resumed, a payment is made by a former recipient, payment is received in full, or the recipient reenrolls in CalFresh and allotment reduction begins.

Once a claim is delinquent for three years, the only allowable collection method is the federal Treasury Offset Program.  All other collection efforts by the county or county revenue and recovery department must stop.  (ACL 20-24, March 26, 2020.)

COVID-19 CalFresh waiver of interview and signature requirements

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding federal waivers of the initial application interview and signature requirements.  These waivers are effective from March 27, 2020 to May 31, 2020.  The waivers can be applied to any application pending at the time of the release of the guidance.

Counties may waive the requirement for an interview at initial certification of eligibility for benefits if the county has verified the identity of the applicant and has completed all mandatory verifications.  Households entitled to expedited service and whose identity is verified within the three-day expedited service timeframe will have their initial interview waived prior to benefit issuance.  If an expedited service household does not provide missing mandatory verification, benefits will be discontinued per existing CDSS policy.

To verify identity counties must accept any readily available documentary evidence which reasonably establishes the applicant’s identity.  If documentary evidence is not readily available, counties may verify identity using collateral contacts.

For other verification, counties should use electronic verification such as Work Number when it is available.

Verification of job loss is not a mandatory verification for CalFresh.  Verification of job loss should be requested only if the job loss is questionable. A client’s statement of job loss is sufficient evidence that the client cannot reasonably anticipate income from that job.

For households whose interviews cannot be waived, counties may require the household to completed a telephone interview even if they request a face-to-face interview.

Counties can document in the case file that the client verbally attested to the information provided on the application instead of having an audio recording of a telephonic signature.  This flexibility can only be used when a telephonic or electronic signature is not available and a wet signature has not been provided.

Counties must ensure that their phone systems have capacity and staffing to implement these waivers.  Phone system performance, including dropped calls, wait times, call completion times and staff adequacy, must be monitored and adjusted to adequately serve incoming calls.  (All County Welfare Directors Letter, April 2, 2020.)

COVID-19 CalFresh emergency allotments

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued information regarding emergency CalFresh allotments authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  The emergency allotments will raise each household’s monthly allotment of CalFresh to the maximum allowable based on household size for March and April 2020.  CalFresh households already receiving the maximum allotment will not receive an emergency allotment.

The March, 2020 emergency allotment will be available on April 12, 2020.  The April emergency allotment will be available on May 10, 2020.  The emergency allotments will be issued on the client’s existing electronic benefits transfer card.

Counties must employ mass change informing practices to inform of the emergency allotment, including text messaging, robocalling, social media, client-facing websites and pre-recorded calls on interactive voice response systems.  (All County Welfare Directors Letter, April 2, 2020.)

COVID-19 suspension of periodic reporting and annual recertification

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued instructions implementing Executive Order N-29-20 regarding eligibility redeterminations for CalWORKs and CalFresh.  CalWORKs and CalFresh redeterminations are suspended for March, April, and May, 2020, and months or partial months of CalWORKs aid are exempt from being counted toward the 48-month time clock through June, 2020.

For March CalFresh and CalWORKs semi-annual reports (SAR 7s), as many discontinuances as as possible will be stopped using an automated process.  For March SAR 7s that have already been processed, counties must manually rescind any discontinuances as a result of information on the SAR 7.  Processing that resulted in a benefit increase will not be changed.  Counties must stop processing March SAR 7s.

Households will continue to receive benefits in the amount they were eligible for in the month the report was due.  That amount will continue unless the household completes a voluntary or mandatory report resulting in a benefits change.

For March CalFresh annual recertifications and CalWORKs annual redeterminations, households will be granted a new six-month certification period with a recertification due in September, 2020.  All CalFresh households granted a new six month certification period must be issued a notice informing of their new certification period and new recertification due date.  Otherwise, March annual recertifications and redeterminations are handled in the same way as the March SAR 7s.

For April and May CalFresh and CalWORKs SAR 7s, automated mailing of the April and May SAR 7 documents has stopped.  Households will continue to receive benefits in the amount they were eligible for in the month the report was due.  Households must continue to complete all mandatory reports. The waiver of the SAR 7 reporting requirement does not change the household’s originally assigned certification period.  That amount will continue unless the household completes a voluntary or mandatory report resulting in a benefits change.  Counties will disregard any April or May SAR 7s that are submitted.

For April and May CalFresh recertifications and CalFresh retedetminations, households will be granted a new six-month certification period with a recertification due in October or November, respectively.  Automated mailing of May recertification packets will stop.  April recertification packets have already been mailed.  Households will continue to receive benefits in the amount they were eligible for in the month the report was due.  That amount will continue unless the household completes a voluntary or mandatory report resulting in a benefits change.  Counties will disregard any April or May recertifictions or redeterminations that are submitted.

Transitional CalFresh households who have recertification due in March, April or May will need to complete recertification as originally scheduled.

The county welfare department computer systems have stopped all discontinuances set to occur in March, April, May or June for exceeding the 48-month time on aid limit.  Cases that have already been discontinued for exceeding the 48-month time on aid limit in March should be reinstated through June.  People who are on a time-limit extender must continue to meet the extender requirements to remain on aid.

Counties should implement mass informing practices to communicate this change such as a message on their websites, social media and interactive voice response systems. (All County Welfare Directors Letter, March 27, 2020.)

90 day suspension of redeterminations, CalWORKs clock stop, and public meeting requirements

Governor Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order regarding public benefits programs in California.  The executive order suspends otherwise required redeterminations for Medi-Cal, CalWORKs, CalFresh , Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants, California Food Assistance Program, and In Home Supportive Services for 90 days.

The executive order also stops the CalWORKs 48 month time clock through June 17, 2020.  Any month or partial month of CalWORKs received will not be counted toward California’s 48 month time on aid limit.

The Executive Order also suspends any requirement of physical presence in the Brown Act or the Bagley-Keene Act for meetings or local or state bodies.  Meetings of state or local bodies held via teleconference and allowing members of the public to observe and address the meeting shall satisfy any requirement that the body allow members of the public to attend the meeting and offer public comment.

The body must have a procedure for reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities and advertise that procedure in each public meeting notice.  Requirements for notice of the time and agenda for meetings are unchanged, except that the notice of the time of the meeting must also give notice of how the public may observe and comment.  These public meeting provision apply as long as state or local public officials have imposed or recommended social distancing. (Executive Order N-29-20, March 17, 2020.)

CDSS guidance regarding COVID-19

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding the impct of COVID-19 on CalWORKs, CalFresh, housing and homelessness programs, and Refugee Cash Assistance.  Counties must ensure continuity of and safe access to services during pandemic conditions or periods of social distancing.

Current CalWORKs recipients are eligible for waiver of existing rules regarding homeless assistance, including the once-every-12-months limit.

Counties are encouraged to explore Diversion eligibility.  Diversion is designed to address a specific crisis or item of need and may be appropriate for affected families.  People who receive diversion are not subject to work requirements or child support assignment.  However, Diversion payments count toward the 48-month time on aid clock.

For CalWORKs applicants, when evidence concerning eligibility does not exist, the applicant’s sworn statement under penalty of perjury is sufficient except for verification of U.S. citizenship or immigration status, and medical verification of pregnancy.  Written statement is also acceptable to establish residency for the forseeable future.  The photo identification requirement is unchanged, meaning that if the applicant cannot present photo identification within 15 days of application, aid shall continue if the applicant presents evidence of good faith efforts to obtain photo identification.  Income rules remain the same.  Some persons impacted by school or work closures will no longer have an income that is reasonably anticipated.

For CalWORKs, counties can conduct interviews telephonically or by electronic means.  Counties that want to implement electronic/telephonic interviewing now because of COVID-19 can contact CDSS for immediate approval, and must submit a plan to CDSS within one week of implementation.

Counties may provide welfare-to-work good cause or exemptions in response to COVID-19. Good cause determinations should be made on a case-by-case basis.  However, counties can implement county-wide good cause to avoid face-to-face interactions to mitigate COVID-19.

Child care providers may not be reimbursed for days on which the provider is not operating unless that provider has a paid day of non-operation and can provide documentation that contractual terms require parents to pay for days of non-operation.  Reimbursable days of non-operation are limited to 10 days per fiscal year.  Payments to alternative providers when regular providers are not operating are limited to 10 days per child per fiscal year.  Counties must pay for child care on behalf of the client when the child is ill for during excuses absences for illness or quarantine.

For CalFresh, counties should promote online, phone or mail-in applications.  Counties should conduct as many interviews as possible by phone.  Counties should fulfill EBT card replacement requests by phone or mail as often as possible.

Counties must ensure that they are granting maximum allowable CalFresh certification periods.  Counties should maximize use of existing databases for verification.  If a household cannot provide required verification because of unusual circumstances, self-certification can be used.

Counties can exempt households from certain requirements for good cause.

If county offices close during regular business hours, they must make it possible for individuals to apply for and receive CalWORKs and CalFresh, including emergency benefits, within time frames required by state and federal law.  Counties must also provide notice of hours of operation, and procedures during closure hours for applying for and receiving benefits.  These procedures must include making applications available and providing a drop-box or mail slot for filing applications.  Such applications must be deemed to have been filed on the date of the county closure.  Counties must maintain sufficient staff to accept and act upon all applications, and telephone staff to accept and act upon all applications as if they were made in person.  This includes making immediate need available no later than the third calendar day following the application date.

Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Support Services will use the CalWORKs guidance.  (ACWDL, March 12, 2020.)