COVID-19 CalWORKs Welfare-to-Work good cause and sanction cure

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) encourages counties to reach out to sanctioned to sanctioned individuals to determine if sanctions can be cured with alternative activities or with good cause and to use flexibilities in ACWDL, March 30, 2020, summarized here, and extended in ACWDL, June 29, 2020, summarized here.  When doing this outreach, counties can ask whether an individual should be exempt from Welfare-to-Work.  Sanctioned individuals who are exempt will have aid restored without the need for a cure plan.

For sanctioned clients who now have good cause because of COVID-19, or whose cure plan contains activities that are no longer available or appropriate, counties should implement cure plans stating that the activity the client failed to perform is not available because of COVID-19.  The cure plan can specify an alternative activity.  When another activity is not practical because of COVID-19, counties may implement cure plans reflecting the lack of appropriate activities and stating the client temporary has good cause not to participate.

Until August 31, 2020, counties can implement temporary, blanket good cause to suspend Welfare-to-Work requirements.

For individuals in the noncompliance process, counties should make all attempts to avoid sanctions by offering other available and appropriate (online or alternative) activities.  Counties can grant good cause on a case-by-case basis or in accordance with a blanket good cause policy.

Until August 31, 2020, counties may use phone interviews, mail-in plans, digital signatures and all electronic means available.  If the county cannot accept telephonic or electronic signatures, individuals may verbally attest to the information the cure plan prior to providing a wet signature.

If necessary supportive services are not available, the individual has good cause for not participating in Welfare-to-Work.  Counties should consider that many schools and daycares are closed because of COVID-19 when determining good cause and curing an individual’s sanction.  (ACIN I-59-20, July 24, 2020.)

COVID-19 extension of CalWORKs pregnancy verification, identity verification, interview and signature requirements

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance implementing Executive Order N-71-20 which extends flexibility regarding pregnancy verification, identity verification, interview and signature requirements until the end of the State of Emergency or the governor modifies or rescinds Executive Order N-71-20, whichever is sooner.

For aid to a pregnant person in a family that does not include another child, applicants can submit a sworn statement verifying pregnancy when medical verification of pregnancy cannot be provided.  Applicants who cannot provide either medical verification or a sworn statement can provide verbal attestation and medical verification within 30 days.  If after 30 days the applicant presents evidence of good-faith efforts to obtain and submit medical verification, the county must continue aid.

In general, applicants must present photo identification in person before aid can be granted.  A sworn affidavit is acceptable but individuals must present photo identification within 30 days for aid to continue.  If county offices are closed because of COVID-19, aid will continue until the applicant can submit photo identification in person without needing to present evidence of good faith efforts to obtain or submit photo identification.   Applicants will be asked to submit photo identification electronically and to present photo identification in person within 90 days after the California Department of Public Health no longer requires physical distancing.

The requirement for signatures on the CalWORKs application and Rights and Responsibilities form is waived.  When a telephonic or electronic signature is unavailable, the county can document verbal attestation in the case file.  Following verbal attestation, the county must mail the Statement of Facts to the client to be returned via U.S. Mail within 30 working days.  If the applicant presents evidence of good faith efforts to submit the wet signature by mail, the county must continue aid.

The requirement for an interview for applicants is suspended for applicants whose identity has been verified and who have submitted all required verification.  This includes requests for immediate need.

Counties are reminded to use electronic verification when available.  When verification does not exist a sworn statement is adequate except for verification of citizenship.  If required verification exists, it must be submitted to waive the interview requirement.  However, counties cannot deny applications for failure to provide evidence if the county determines that the applicant is making a good faith effort to obtain the evidence.

These rules also apply to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crimes Victims Assistance Program.  (ACWDL, July 16, 2020.)

Distance learning via Cell-Ed for CalWORKs and CalFresh

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has information about Cell-Ed, a distance learning program that CDSS has partnered with.  This partnership provides counties free access to Cell-Ed through June, 2021.

Cell-Ed and other distance learning activities can count towards CalWORKs Welfare-to-Work participation in various categories.  Cell-Ed also counts as a core activity (not counting toward the 24-month time clock) a vocational education, job search and job readiness.

Counties can track participation on Cell-Ed.  Counties should not ask for additional verification of Cell-Ed participation.

Cell-Ed is an allowable CalFresh Employment and Training (E &T) activity.

CalWORKs participants are entitled to supportive services for Cell-Ed courses, including child care and ancillary expenses.  CalFresh E & T participants are also entitled to supportive services for Cell-Ed.  For both CalWORKs and CalFresh E & T, covered ancillary expenses can include a mobile phone or a phone and internet service to connect to Cell-Ed.  (ACIN I-55-20, July 1, 2020.)

CalWORKs Homeless Assistance shared housing

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided questions and answers regarding CalWORKs Homeless Assistance shared housing.  Effective January 1, 2020, CalWORKs families may use homeless assistance payments to rent from any person or establishment with whom they have a valid lease, sublease or shared housing agreement.

For temporary homeless assistance, a lease is not necessary and any form of documentation showing the address, dates of stay, rent, and contact information of the provider is acceptable.  For permanent homeless assistance, the agreement must show the rent the CalWORKs family is paying to determine if the rent exceeds 80% of total monthly income.

For a long-term sublease or shared housing agreement for permanent homeless assistance, there should be documentation that the family is legally allowed to reside in the property, and that the sublease or shared housing agreement does not violate the original lease.  For short-term housing agreements for temporary homeless assistance, counties need to confirm that allowing a short term guest does not violate the terms of the original lease.  A statement from the tenant providing the housing is sufficient.

If the county cannot verify that there is a valid rental agreement, the county can contact the landlord with permission of the CalWORKs family.  This contact can be done by phone.  If contact cannot be made, a sworn statement from the client is sufficient.

There are no homeless assistance regulations regarding the maximum number of people per room.  There are also no requirements for the county to do a habitability check on the property prior to approving homeless assistance.

For temporary homeless assistance, the shared housing agreement is sufficient verification that the benefits were spent on shelter.  If counties want additional verification, a statement from the housing provider or a sworn statement from the client is adequate.

Temporary homeless assistance is a set amount, and the family is entitled to that amount even if their shelter cost is less than that amount.

Counties must comply with the assistance unit’s request to issue homeless assistance to the assistance unit or to the provider unless there is a finding of mismanagement of funds.

Families are not required to use their 16 nights of temporary homeless assistance in the same location.

Permanent homeless assistance can be used to pay security deposits.  This includes payment of the client’s share of an existing security deposit that is paid to the housing provider.

Temporary homeless assistance cannot be replaced when a housing provider breaks an agreement to provide housing.

There is no requirement that providers have a tax ID number.  If it is not possible to issue a vendor payment, counties should issue homeless assistance directly to families despite a mismanagement finding because they are entitled to the benefits.

Clients not providing receipts verifying that homeless assistance funds were spent on housing is not a basis for assessing an overpayment.  Not providing receipts is a basis for a finding of mismanagement of funds and subsequent benefits being issued by vendor payments.  The only time homeless assistance can be an overpayment is when the family was not eligible for the benefits when they received them.  (ACIN I-52-20, June 30, 2020.)

CalWORKs Zero Basic Grant implementation

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided questions and answers regarding CalWORKs Zero Basic Grants (ZBG) caused by changes in the Income Reporting Threshold.  Effective June 1, 2020, assistance units must report income over their IRT, but remain eligible for CalWORKs until their income is over the Tier 2 IRT, which is now 130 percent of the federal poverty level.  This change will allow families with net non-exempt income greater than the maximum aid payment but under 130% of the federal poverty level to remain eligible for CalWORKs but with a zero grant.  In addition, assistance units with a penalty that reduces the grant to zero, assistance units with a grant amount under $10, families with a grant reduced to zero by overpayment adjustment and families with grant based On-the Job training that is diverted to the employer to offset wages have a ZBG.

Assistance Units  with ZBG are eligible for homeless assistance, Welfare-to-Work supportive services, Stage 1 child care, pregnancy and other recurring and nonrecurring special needs, and home visiting program services.

Assistance Units with ZBG must make all mandatory reports.  ZBG recipients are required to participate in Welfare-to-Work unless they are exempt.  The 48-month time clock will not tick because of income exceeding the maximum aid payment but under 130% of the federal poverty level.  However, the clock will tick for ZBG cases where the grant is under $10 because of overpayment recoupment and for months when the assistance unit receives homeless assistance or another non-recurring special need.  (ACIN I-53-20, June 30, 2020.)