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.)

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.)