Changes to CalWORKs Homeless Assistance

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance program.  16 days of temporary homeless assistance no longer needs to be used consecutively.  Families will be able to receive 16 days of Homeless Assistance cumulative in a 12-month period.  The 16 days of temporary Homeless Assistance will not be exhausted until all 16 days are used, the family resolves their homelessness or 12 months have passed.  The first three days of temporary homeless assistance must still be issued the day the family applies, followed by weekly issuances not to exceed 16 days.

However, this change will be not be effective until it is automated.  CDSS estimates that will take six to nine months.  Counties are encouraged to implement this change using a manual workaround as soon as possible.  CDSS will release the official implementation date later.

Families must still provide receipts verifying temporary Homeless Assistance was spent on shelter.  Counties are encouraged to offer good cause or accept a sworn statement when benefits are not received consecutively and families have not kept their receipts.  Counties are also encouraged to grant good cause or accept a sworn statement of permanent housing search when they do not have proof of their search.

Removal of the consecutive day requirement also applies to Homeless Assistance for persons fleeing domestic violence.  However, those benefits will still be issued in 16 day increments.

Effective January 1, 2020, families will no longer be required to use Homeless Assistance to rent from a person in the business of renting properties.  Families now can use Homeless Assistance to rent from any person or establishment with whom the family executes a valid lease, sublease or shared housing agreement.  This change also allows temporary Homeless Assistance to enter into a short-term lease, sublet or sharing housing arrangement to meet temporary housing needs.  (ACL 19-118, January 2, 2020.)

Time on aid for CalWORKs Family Reunification cases

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding time on aid for CalWORKs Family Reunification cases that receive temporary homeless assistance benefits.

Effective January 1, 2018, CalWORKs families receiving Family Reunification services are eligible for temporary homeless assistance if the county determines these benefits are necessary for reunification to occur.  Previously, these families could only receive supportive services.  These families are not eligible for a CalWORKs grant.

CDSS states that homeless assistance benefits are considered special need payments and special needs payments count as receipt of aid towards the recipients CalWORKs 48-month time on aid limit.  Homeless Assistance does not tick the Federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families time on aid clock because federal regulations consider homeless assistance to be non-recurring short-term benefits, not assistance.  (ACL 19-112, December 12, 2019.)

CalWORKs Cal-OAR Cal-CQI process

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance about the Cal-OAR California Continuous Quality Improvement (Cal-CQI) process.  Cal-OAR establishes a local data-driven management system to facilitate improvement to county CalWORKs programs.  The Cal-CQI occurs in three-year cycles using data gathered from Cal-OAR.  During each three-year cycle, counties must conduct a self-assessment, develop a system improvement plan, implement and evaluate strategies for improvement and report progress.

Each county must conduct a self-assessment to 1) comprehensively evaluate services, program implementation, and outcomes; 2) identify strengths and challenges of current program practices and 3) describe how local operational decisions and systemic factors affect outcomes.  Counties are required to work with local stakeholders in the Cal-OAR process.  Counties must also have a peer review component.  Based on this information, counties develop a plan for improvement in which they select a measure or set of measures for focused improvement and develop strategies to improve performance on the chosen measures.

When the self improvement plan is approved by the Board of Supervisors and CDSS, the county will work to implement its improvement strategies.  Counties must do a progress report on implementation progress of the self improvement plan.

CDSS will provide training on the Cal-OAR process in a variety of formats.  (ACL 19-108, November 27, 2019.)

Social Security and SSI COLA

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will receive a 1.6% cost of living adjustment (COLA) effective January 1, 2020.  The California Department of Social Services has issued instructions regarding how the COLA will impact CalWORKs and CalFresh Grants.

For new CalWORKs and CalFresh applicants, the anticipated amount of the Social Security or SSI benefits, including the COLA, will be used to determine eligibility and grant amount starting for January, 2020.

For CalWORKs and CalFresh households in their final month of their semi-annual reporting period, counties will reasonably anticipate the increase in Social Security and SSI income for January, 2020 and thereafter.

For all other CalWORKs and CalFresh households, counties must adjust benefits beginning in January, 2020 to include the COLA amount because COLA adjustments cause mandatory mid-period changes in grant amounts.  Counties must give timely and adequate notice of grant amount changes caused by the COLA.  (ACIN I-67-19, November 25, 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.)

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.)