CalWORKs overpayments during COVID-19

The California Department of Social Services has issued reminders of CalWORKs overpayment policies in consideration of COVID-19.  In recognition of the pace of policy changes, and the impact COVID-19 had on county operations and CalWORKs recipients’ inability to complete required reports such as gross monthly income over the IRT, counties must consider these circumstances when establishing overpayments as it is very likely there will be an increase in administrative error overpayments beginning with April, 2020.

Federal individual stimulus payments are excluded from counting as income in the month of receipt and as an asset for 12 months following receipt.

Semi-annual reporting was suspended for March, April, and May, 2020.  However, assistance units who did not make mandatory mid-period reports may be subject to overpayments.  Mandatory mid-period reports are income exceeding the income reporting threshold, fleeing felon status, violation of conditions of probation or parole, and address change.  Unearned income must be paired with earned income to be considered over the income reporting threshold.  Failure to report an address change cannot be based on failure to report an address change.

The $600 per week Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provided through July 31, 2020 is exempt from being considered income for recipients, but not for applicants.  If a family had Pandemic Unemployment Compensation in its possession when they applied and it was not used in determining eligibility there could be total ineligibility and an overpayment.

The Lost Wage Assistance Program issued for the period July 26, 2020 to September 5, 2020 does not count as income for CalWORKs because it is Stafford Act disaster benefits.

Administrative Error overpayments are caused when the county has all information in its possession necessary to make a correct grant determination.

For current CalWORKs recipients, collection can be made by grant adjustment, offset of an underpayment with the overpayment, action on a civil judgment, voluntary cash recovery and voluntary cash offset.

For former CalWORKs recipients, the county cannot demand collection of a nonfraudulent overpayment if the balance is less than $250.  When the claim is more than $250, collection can be made by action on a civil judgment, voluntary cash recovery and voluntary cash offset. (ACIN I-14-21, February 17, 2021.)

Child care portal

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) provides information regarding the Stage One child care immediate and continuous eligibility monthly data report and online summary screen.  This child care portal contains current individual family data needed to enroll a family in CalWORKs Child Care services or transfer between stages.

Counties are required to share information necessary for the administration of CalWORKs and child care programs with local contractors providing CalWORKs child care services.  Counties must provide limited access to the welfare department computer systems to child care contractors, including a single summary page containing individual family data needed to enroll a family in CalWORKs child care or transfer a family between stages.  Counties must also provide Stage Two contractors a report monthly of all families for whom CalWORKs has been discontinued, the parent/caretaker relative has not received aid for at least one month, and the parent/caretaker relative has children in the home who are eligible for child care services.

Counties must give child care portal access to Alternative Payment Providers and/or other contractors providing CalWORKs child care services.  (ACIN I-20-21, January 29, 2021.)

Suspected Unemployment Insurance fraud and identity theft information

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided guidance regarding reporting fraud or identity theft when it is suspected that someone else used their information to collect Unemployment Insurance benefits.  In cases where applicants or recipients state that Unemployment Insurance claims have been filed using personal identifying information without their knowledge or consent, counties should help households to report suspected Unemployment Insurance fraud and identity theft.  CDSS has provided a notice to inform clients of resources for reporting suspected identity theft or benefits fraud

In cases of identity theft, counties cannot require any proof such as a police report or documents from the Employment Development Department.  A signed affidavit is acceptable verification for resolving reporting discrepancies.  (ACWDL, January 29, 2021.)

Standard ancillary services payment and other WTW changes for students

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) informs counties of changes to CalWORKs welfare-to-work (WTW) for students, including the new standard payment for ancillary services for students.  These changes are effective January 1, 2021 and must be implemented no later than the Fall, 2021 school term.

WTW participants enrolled in a publicly funded postsecondary educational institution and making satisfactory progress must receive an advanced, standard payment for required books and college supplies.  The participant must provide proof of enrollment.  The standard payment for full time students is $500 per semester and $350 per quarter.  The standard payment for part-time students is $250 per semester and $175 per quarter. These payments must be available at least 10 days before the start of the term.

Participants can request reimbursement of actual costs if they provide verification of those costs.  Counties must issue payment within 20 days of the request and provision of verification.

Counties can provide these payments as a voucher or other means of payment to a store that carries the books or college supplies required for participation.  Counties can only exercise this option if they ensure that vouchers are available to WTW participants no later than 10 days before the start of the term.

Satisfactory progress is determined by the educational institution.  Proof of admission is sufficient to show satisfactory progress because schools will not allow enrollment unless the student is making satisfactory progress.

Publicly funded postsecondary educational institution excludes for-profit schools.

WTW participants in publicly funded postsecondary educational institution shall not be required to complete job search or job club as their initial engagement activity.  Assessments for WTW participants in publicly funded postsecondary educational institution can only be conducted for the purpose of identifying barriers to participation in education such as domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health or learning disability.  WTW participants cannot be disallowed from attending the institution because of a barrier or refusal to attend an assessment.  Assessment results cannot be used to limit or restrict the participant’s choice in educational or training goal.

These changes do not make any changes to Self-Initiated Programs.

WTW participants enrolled in a publicly funded postsecondary educational institution shell receive three hours of study time for each academic unit enrolled in for purposes of calculating WTW hourly requirements.  If students do not meet the total number of hours required, counties must assist the participant by allowing the participant to submit a proposal for meeting those hours based on the full array of WTW activities available.

Participants who receive an advanced standard payment must sign a Welfare-to-Work Plan Activity Assignment (WTW 2) form.  If the participant continues attending the same institution at the same full-time or part-time level and does not require additional supportive services, an updated WTW 2 is not required.

The county must provide the WTW 2 30 days prior to registration for the term.  Counties must allow students to change their major or field of study.  If the county does not provide the WTW 2 form 30 days prior to the beginning of the term, ancillary services shall continue at the same level until the county receives the updated WTW 2.  (ACL 21-04, January 20, 2021.)

Increase in child support disregard for the CalWORKs program

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding the increase in the child support disregard for the CalWORKs program.  Effective January 1, 2022, or when the computer systems are programmed, whichever is later, the disregard of current child support will increase from $50 to $100 for one child and $200 for two children.  These payments are not included when determining CalWORKs eligibility and/or grant amounts.

Safety net cases that are exempt from child support assignment will have the first $100 for one child and $200 for two children of collected child support will not included when determining CalWORKs eligibility and/or grant amounts.

Families that receive direct child support payments must report those payments as income, and will have first $100 for one child and $200 for two children not included when determining CalWORKs eligibility and/or grant amounts.

Families with a child that is opted-out of the CalWORKs assistance unit and are directly receiving child support for that child under SB 380 qualify for the $200 disregard because those families have more than one child in the assistance unit.

In determining eligibility for opt-out under SB 380, the amount of child support collected to be eligible is the maximum aid payment for that child plus the $200 disregard.

Counties are required to inform applicants and recipients of this change at least 90 days before implementation, and to inform new applicants at application beginning no later than 30 days prior to implementation.  (ACL 20-115, October 28, 2020.)

End of 24-month CalWORKs time clock

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding the end of the 24-month CalWORKs time clock and related welfare-to-work (WTW) changes.  Effective May 1, 2022, or when the computer systems are programmed, whichever is later, the CalWORKs 24 month time clock is repealed.  The California CalWORKs standards will be the only WTW hourly participation requirements and federal standards will no longer be used to determine WTW participation. This means that all WTW activities allowed under California law will be counted at any time during the CalWORKs time on aid clock.

Months where WTW participation is excused for good cause for at least 50% of the hourly participation requirement will not count toward the time on aid clock. Family stabilization services will be available at any point on the WTW time clock.  Self-Initiated Plans will be available at any time during the WTW time on aid clock. Vocational education and job search/job readiness will be allowable activities throughout the time on aid clock.

Counties must notify all clients of these changes as soon as appropriate prior to May 1, 2022.  If after being informed of these changes a client chooses to remain in their existing WTW plan, the client will not need to sign a new WTW plan document.

Starting on the date these changes become effective, no CalWORKs recipient can be sanctioned if they are meeting minimum WTW participation requirements.  This includes clients who are assigned to a compliance plan or a cure plan even if the compliance or cure plan is to meet federal CalWORKs standards.

Recipients in the noncompliance process for failing to meet federal standards at the time these changes become effective must be informed that meeting CalWORKs participation requirements with any allowable activity will end noncompliance.  Counties must inform recipients who are removed from aid because of the 24 month time clock that they can receive aid by meeting CalWORKs participation requirements with any allowable activity  (ACL 20-120, November 13, 2020.)