COVID-19 extension of suspension of CalWORKs time on aid and verification requirements

The California Department of Social Services has issued guidance implementing Executive Order N-69-20 which extends several COVID-19 changes to the CalWORKs program.

The CalWORKs 48-month time on aid clock will remain stopped through August, 2020.  The requirement for providing medical verification of pregnancy before approving benefits continues to be suspended until August 14, 2020.  The requirement for CalWORKs applicants to provide photo identification continues to be suspended until August 14, 2020.  The requirement for signatures on the application and rights and responsibilities forms continues to be suspended until August 14, 2020.  The requirement that CalWORKs applicants be personally interviewed before being approved for benefits continues to be suspended until August 14, 2020.  Details about the verification suspension are in All County Welfare Directors Letter May 4, 2020, summarized here.

The verification suspension also applies to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program.  (ACWDL, June 16, 2020.)

COVID-19 extension of RCA, ECA and TCVAP eligibility

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding extension of eligibility for Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA), Entrant Cash Assistance (ECA) and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program (TCVAP) until beyond the 8-month time limit until September 30, 2020.

RCA, ECA and TCVAP provide cash benefits to various refugee and immigrant populations for 8 months.  The programs generally follow eligibility rules for CalWORKs.  Note that applicants and recipients of these programs are not required to provide a Social Security Number.

ECA, RCA and TCVAP are now extended until September 30, 2020 for recipients whose date of eligibility is between April 1, 2019, and February 1, 2020.  For recipients who received their either month of benefits in May, 2020 or will reach the 8 month limit between June 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020, benefits will continue until September 30, 2020.  For such recipients who reached their 8 month limit or were discontinued because of noncompliance, counties can extend benefits until September 30, 2020 if clients reapply and meet eligibility requirements. Counties are encouraged to contact clients to inform them they may be eligible and can reapply.  (ACWDL, June 11, 2020.)

MBSAC increase

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has informed counties that the CalWORKs Minimum Basic Standard of Care (MBSAC) will increase by 3.72% effective July 1, 2020.  This will increase the MBSAC in Region 1 to $741 for a 1 one person assistance unit, $1,216 for a 2 person assistance unit, $1,507 for a 3 person assistance unit and increasing with increases in assistance unit size.  The MBSAC for Region 2 will increase to $703 for a 1 one person assistance unit, $1,155 for a 2 person assistance unit, $1,430 for a 3 person assistance unit and increasing with increases in assistance unit size.

The same increase will apply to the MBSAC for Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program.  The same increase will apply to the CalWORKs Income in-kind level.  (ACL 20-60, May 29, 2020.)

COVID-19 new unemployment programs as income for CalWORKs

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding counting Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) as income for CalWORKs.

PUC is an extra $600 per week of regular unemployment insurance through July 31, 2020.  Pursuant to Executive Order N-59-20, PUC is exempt as income for CalWORKs recipients.  However, PUC counts as income for CalWORKs applicants.

PEUC is an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance for people who have exhausted regular unemployment insurance through December 31, 2020.  PUA is unemployment payments for persons not otherwise eligible for regular unemployment insurance including self-employed persons and independent contractors who are unemployed as a result of COVID-19.  PEUC and PUA are not exempt for purposes of CalWORKs and they count as unearned income.

This guidance also applies to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance program.  (ACWDL, May 5, 2020.)

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

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance implementing Executive Order N-59-20.  This guidance expires on June 30, 2020.

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.  Pregnancy verification must be provided within 90 days after the California Department of Public Health no longer requires physical distancing.

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 that when verification does not exist a sworn statement is adequate.  Counties cannot deny applications for failure to provide evidence if the county determines that the applicant is making a good faith effort.

These rules also apply to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crimes Victims Assistance Program.  (ACWDL, May 4, 2020.)

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.)