Interim housing and homeless program guidance on COVID-19

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding CDSS housing and homeless programs for COVID-19.  The guidance relates to CalWORKs Homeless Assistance (HA), CalWORKs Housing Support Program (HSP), Bringing Families Home (BFH), Housing and Disability Advocacy Program (HDAP) and Home Safe.

CDSS does not limit the number of days of interim shelter, including nights in a hotel or motel, for HSP, Bringing Families Home, HDAP and Home Safe.

HA applications are not required to be in person or to include a face-to-interview.  Counties can complete the CW 42 application form for the client and have then sign electronically.  Existing rules requiring issuing 3-days of benefits while homelessness is verified remain in effect.  However, counties are strongly encouraged to issue benefits without requiring clients to come to the office, including allowing sworn statements and granting good cause instead of requiring clients to come to county offices.  Although existing guidance requires counties to issue vendor payments when there has been a finding of mismanagement, if there is no feasible way to issue vendor payments because of COVID-19, counties should consider issuing benefits on the client’s EBT card.

Clients affected by COVID-19 may be eligible for an exception to the once-every 12 months rule for HA.  For example, if a parent in an assistance unit is concerned about infection and asks to isolate themselves, HA should be granted based on an exception because of illness.

HDAP funds can expand existing housing options used by HDAP clients, including shelters, recuperative care housing, hotel or motel leases, or interim housing programs.  For example, expanding a shelter program could include offering specialized quarantine options or leases with motels to provide housing for homeless persons impacted by COVID-19.  Counties can also purchase supplies for a specialized quarantine area or establish a new shelter program for HDAP clients specific to COVID-19.  In addition, HDAP funds can be spent on outreach to locate persons potentially eligible for HDAP who are residing in homeless camps who require medical care related to COVID-19.

Home Safe funds can be spent on landlord engagement, including incentives for landlords to participate in Home Safe.  Such payments can include in-kind goods to address COVID-19 impacts such as medical or sanitizing equipment and supplies.  Home Safe funds may also be used for interim housing, including motels.

HSP funds can be used for a range of financial and supportive services, including providing interim housing, helping participants navigate systems of care, providing rental assistance, incentive payments in the form of good for landlords participating in HSP, and supplies necessary to keep housing habitable.  Counties can provide landlord mediation and discussion of tenant’s rights to avoid eviction or housing displacement.

BFH for families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness with an open child welfare case can include interim housing, tenant engagement, case management, public systems assistance, and conflict mediation with landlords or neighbors.  BFH can locate and pay for motel stays for families seeking interim housing that is not a shelter.  BFH can also pay for cleaning supplies.

A three-day notice to pay rent or quit meets eligibility requirements for HA, BFH, HDAP and Home Safe.  HA can be used to pay up to two month rental arrearages to prevent eviction.  (ACWDL, March 19, 2020.)

The HA provisions of this letter are superceeded by All County Welfare Directors Letter, March 31, 2020, summarized here.

CDSS guidance regarding COVID-19

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding the impct of COVID-19 on CalWORKs, CalFresh, housing and homelessness programs, and Refugee Cash Assistance.  Counties must ensure continuity of and safe access to services during pandemic conditions or periods of social distancing.

Current CalWORKs recipients are eligible for waiver of existing rules regarding homeless assistance, including the once-every-12-months limit.

Counties are encouraged to explore Diversion eligibility.  Diversion is designed to address a specific crisis or item of need and may be appropriate for affected families.  People who receive diversion are not subject to work requirements or child support assignment.  However, Diversion payments count toward the 48-month time on aid clock.

For CalWORKs applicants, when evidence concerning eligibility does not exist, the applicant’s sworn statement under penalty of perjury is sufficient except for verification of U.S. citizenship or immigration status, and medical verification of pregnancy.  Written statement is also acceptable to establish residency for the forseeable future.  The photo identification requirement is unchanged, meaning that if the applicant cannot present photo identification within 15 days of application, aid shall continue if the applicant presents evidence of good faith efforts to obtain photo identification.  Income rules remain the same.  Some persons impacted by school or work closures will no longer have an income that is reasonably anticipated.

For CalWORKs, counties can conduct interviews telephonically or by electronic means.  Counties that want to implement electronic/telephonic interviewing now because of COVID-19 can contact CDSS for immediate approval, and must submit a plan to CDSS within one week of implementation.

Counties may provide welfare-to-work good cause or exemptions in response to COVID-19. Good cause determinations should be made on a case-by-case basis.  However, counties can implement county-wide good cause to avoid face-to-face interactions to mitigate COVID-19.

Child care providers may not be reimbursed for days on which the provider is not operating unless that provider has a paid day of non-operation and can provide documentation that contractual terms require parents to pay for days of non-operation.  Reimbursable days of non-operation are limited to 10 days per fiscal year.  Payments to alternative providers when regular providers are not operating are limited to 10 days per child per fiscal year.  Counties must pay for child care on behalf of the client when the child is ill for during excuses absences for illness or quarantine.

For CalFresh, counties should promote online, phone or mail-in applications.  Counties should conduct as many interviews as possible by phone.  Counties should fulfill EBT card replacement requests by phone or mail as often as possible.

Counties must ensure that they are granting maximum allowable CalFresh certification periods.  Counties should maximize use of existing databases for verification.  If a household cannot provide required verification because of unusual circumstances, self-certification can be used.

Counties can exempt households from certain requirements for good cause.

If county offices close during regular business hours, they must make it possible for individuals to apply for and receive CalWORKs and CalFresh, including emergency benefits, within time frames required by state and federal law.  Counties must also provide notice of hours of operation, and procedures during closure hours for applying for and receiving benefits.  These procedures must include making applications available and providing a drop-box or mail slot for filing applications.  Such applications must be deemed to have been filed on the date of the county closure.  Counties must maintain sufficient staff to accept and act upon all applications, and telephone staff to accept and act upon all applications as if they were made in person.  This includes making immediate need available no later than the third calendar day following the application date.

Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Support Services will use the CalWORKs guidance.  (ACWDL, March 12, 2020.)

EDD benefits eligibility for Covid-19

The Employment Development Department (EDD) has issued a statement on its website about benefits eligibility for people impacted by Covid-19.   People certified by a medical professional as unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 are eligible for State Disability Insurance.

People unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19  as certified by a medical professional are eligible for Paid Family Leave, which is up to 6 weeks of benefits.

People who have reduced work hours because the employer has reduced hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, can file for Unemployment Insurance.

In addition, employers experiencing a slowdown in their businesses or services as a result of the coronavirus impact on the economy may apply for the UI Work Sharing Program which allows employers to retain their trained employees by reducing their hours and wages that can be partially offset with UI benefits.  (EDD Coronavirus-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.)

Housing and Disability Advocacy Program guidance

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued updated program guidance regarding the Housing and Disability Advocacy Program (HDAP).  HDAP offers funding to county agencies or tribal governments to assist homeless disabled individuals with applying for disability benefits programs while providing housing assistance.  39 counties currently have HDAP programs.  HDAP requires grantees to offer outreach, case management, advocacy and housing assistance concurrently.

Assistance should be provided until disability benefits are granted and the participant is stabilized in permanent housing. A dollar-for-dollar grantee match is also required.

There are several changes to the program because of legislation in 2019.  These changes include: 1) Funding is now available for federally recognized tribal governments; 2) Priority for assistance is for chronically homeless individuals or homeless persons who rely most heavily on government-funded services; 3) Programs can consider providing housing assistance after disability benefits are granted until housing placement is stable and affordable; 4) Case management staff must assist in developing a transition plan for housing support when disability benefits are granted or denied.

HDAP continues its principles of housing first, collaboration among programs and prioritizing assistance is for chronically homeless individuals or homeless persons who rely most heavily on government-funded services.  Providing services on first-come, first-served basis or by most likely to find housing is improper.

Required program components continue to be outreach, case management, benefits advocacy and housing assistance.  Limiting outreach to General Assistance/General Relief applicants or recipients is insufficient.

Additional program components include transition planning, workforce development for participants not likely to be eligible for disability benefits, interim assistance reimbursement, and data gathering.  (ACL 19-104, November 1, 2019.)

Guidance on discrimination complaint summary investigation letters

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued instructions the content of letters from county civil rights coordinators that provide the county’s determination of complaints following their investigations.  An applicant for or recipient of benefits or services from a CDSS program can file a civil rights complaint with the county welfare department if they believe they have been discriminated against in violation of federal or state anti-discrimination laws.  An applicant or recipient has the right to appeal a county determination of a civil rights complaint to the CDSS Civil Rights Bureau.  The letters provided to complaintants provide a brief summary of the allegations and the reasons for the County’s determination. This is necessary to give the complaintant sufficient information to understand the basis for the decision, decide whether to appeal to CDSS and to present meaningful argument on appeal.

The County summary letter must contain: 1) a clear statement of the allegations, include the complaintant’s allegations of what happened, and on what basis discrimination is alleged; 2) The case specific facts that the county relied on to make its determination; and 3) the reasons for the County’s determination.

Any statements that the investigators attribute to the complaintant must be included verbatim in the summary letter.

Counties must include a draft of the summary letter to the complaintant with the final investigation report that is forwarded to CDSS for review.  The County must wait for CDSS’ approval before providing the summary letter to the claimant.  (ACL 18-111, September 10, 2018.)