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.)

CalWORKs additional income exemptions

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding AB 807 that exempts awards and scholarships provided by a private or public entity to, or on behalf of, a dependent child, and income earned from temporary work related to the census.

Prior to AB 807, awards or scholarships provided for academic or extracurricular achievement were exempt from being considered income.  Now any award or scholarship provided to a dependent child is exempt from being considered income for CalWORKs.

Prior to AB 807, income from census work was counted for CalWORKs if it was reasonably anticipated.  Now, any census-related income or stipend earned during the year preceding a census and the year of a census is not income for CalWORKs.

Counties must implement these changes manually until the changes are automated.  (ACL 19-106, November 12, 2019.)

CalWORKs eligibility for disaster victims and evacuees

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued a reminder about regulations an policies for processing CalWORKs applications and documents on behalf of disaster victims and evacuees.

For evacuees who apply for CalWORKs, if the applicant and the county make a good faith effort to obtain verification and are unable to do so, the county must accept the evacuee’s statements signed under penalty of perjury in lieu of verification.

When an individual or family displaced by fires applies for CalWORKs, counties must establish that the evacuee was living in a county designated as a federal disaster and/or state-declared emergency zone and ask if the evacuee or anyone else in their family is receiving CalWORKs from that county or another disaster county.

Counties are encouraged to offer CalWORKs diversion to evacuees to address their specific crisis or item of need.

Disaster assistance from federal, state or local government or disaster assistance organizations is excluded from consideration as income.

For new applicants, counties should pay special attention to homeless assistance, including that evacuees are entitled to an exception to the once in twelve months limitation, and to eligibility for immediate need payments.  A written statement from the applicant is sufficient to establish intent to establish residency in California and in the county of application for the foreseeable future.  For income, it is expected that some evacuees will no longer have reasonably anticipated income because of the disaster.  For property and resources, counties must consider the applicant’s ability to access, occupy or sell their property at the time of application because of the disaster.

For families temporarily separated because of the disaster, a family member is considered temporary absent if they expect to reunite within one full calendar month.  CalWORKs recipients can maintain a home in a different county than the county they are physically residing in if they intend to return to that home within four months.

Evacuated families should make a good cause determination for nonparticipation in welfare-to-work activities.  Counties should also determine if an applicant needs barrier removal services such as mental health services or housing stabilization program services and provide these services as expeditiously as possible.  (All County Welfare Directors Letter, October 29, 2019.)

CalWORKs Home Visiting Program

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued instructions about the Home Visiting Program (HVP) which is a voluntary program that connects new parents with a nurse or other trained professional who makes regular visits to the client’s home to provide guidance, coaching, access to prenatal and postnatal care, and other health and social services.  HVP also encourages clients to enroll their child, and volunteer in, an early learning setting.

In order to be eligible for HVP, in a county where HVP is offered, an individual must be pregnant or the parent or caretaker relative of a child under age 24 months and one of the following: a member of a CalWORKs assistance unit, the parent or caretaker relative in a child-only case, applied for CalWORKs within 60 days of reaching the second trimester or preganacy or apparently eligible for CalWORKs.

HVP participants can be either mandatory or voluntary welfare-to-work participants.  All HVP hours and any time spent volunteering in an early learning setting must be assigned in the welfare-to-work plan and count toward welfare-to-work participation requirements.  However, HVP participants are not required to participate in welfare-to-work or to have a welfare-to-work plan.  CalWORKs time on aid limits do not prevent accessing HVP services.

HVP clients in welfare-to-work are entitled to supportive services.

(ACL 19-42, July 11, 2019 and ACL 19-42E, October 7, 2019.)


Temporary Homeless Assistance increase final regulations

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued final regulations implementing the increase in the daily payment amount for temporary homeless assistance.  The daily temporary homeless assistance rate for a family of up to four is increased from $65 to $85 per night.  Each additional family member still increases the rate by $15, but the daily maximum for a family of 8 is increased from $125 to $145 per night.  (ACIN I-64-19, October 15, 2019.)

CalWORKs Home Visiting Initiative

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding  aspects of the CalWORKs Home Visiting Initiative (HVI).  HVI authorizes voluntary home visits for certain CalWORKs households to support positive health, development and well-being outcomes for pregnant and parenting women, families and infants born into poverty.

Contractors must ensure that all home visitors receive implicit bias and cultural competency training.  Contractors are encouraged to partner with local organizations to develop a curriculum that best suits the needs of home visiting program participants.  Beyond required minimum training standards, counties are strongly encouraged to recruit home visitors who are culturally and linguistically matched to the CalWORKs population served, utilize culturally relevant community-based partners for resource and referral services, and integrate cultural competency into other training topics.

Counties must provide an informing notice about HVI in the CalWORKs intake packet.  CDSS provided a sample informing notice.

CDSS also provided a sample outreach flyer.  Counties must produce outreach documents in languages that “best represent the clients they are serving.”

Counties can provide $500 for the purchase of material goods during the course of home visiting services.  Material goods include child safety kits, car seats, appliance repairs and adaptive equipment for children with disabilities.  (All County Welfare Directors Letter, April 25, 2019.)