Impact of end federal pandemic unemployment programs impact on CalWORKs and CalFresh

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided guidance regarding the end of the federal pandemic unemployment programs in CalWORKs and CalFresh.  The programs ending are Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)(benefits for self-employed and independent contractor workers), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)(extension benefits), Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (additional benefits because of COVID), Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation and FED-ED.  These benefits are no longer payable after September 4, 2021, except for FED-ED which is no longer payable after September 11, 2021.

Counties should anticipate an increase in voluntary mid-period reports because of the end of these programs.  These reports may be made in writing, online, verbally, or in person. Counties can act on these reports only if they increase benefits.

For CalWORKs, an increased grant because of decrease in income is effective the first of the month in which the change occurred or is reported, whichever is later.  The recipient must provide verification of the change within 10 days of the county requesting verification.  Adequate verification can include, but is not limited to, a letter from the Employment Development Department, an Income Eligibility Verification System report, or, when other verification does not exist, a sworn statement.  The same rules apply to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance, and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program.

For CalFresh, when a reported change results in an increase in benefits, the change must be effective no later than the first allotment issued 10 days after the date the change is reported.  Counties cannot request verification unless the income change is over $50 the income source has changed, or the change would results in an increase in benefits.  Counties must inform the household in writing of required verification. (ACWDL, September 3, 2021.)

COVID-19 CalWORKs overpayments

All CalWORKs overpayments established on or after August 1, 2021 for the period April, 2020 to either the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency or June 30, 2022, whichever is earlier, must be classified as administrative error.

Overpayment claims that include any month during the COVID-19 state of emergency must be classified as administrative error, regardless of the cause of the overpayment.  For example, an overpayment from November, 2019 to April, 2020 must be classified as administrative error because one month of the overpayment period is during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Counties are reminded that unearned income must be paired with earned income for that month to be considered over the Income Reporting Threshold and thus triggering a mid-period reporting obligation.  Counties are also reminded that failure to report a change of address cannot, in and of itself, result in a reduction or termination of aid.  Failure to report an address change cannot be the basis of an overpayment allegation.

These rules also apply to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program.  (ACL 21-85, August 5, 2021.)

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

The California Department of Social Services has extended waiver of CalWORKs pregnancy verification, identity verification, interview and signature requirements until September 30, 2021 based on Executive Order N-08-21.

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, July 22, 2021.)

Increase in CalWORKs resource limit

Effective July 1, 2021, the maximum resource limit will increase by 2.11 percent to $10,211 for the CalWORKs, Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance, and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program. The new resource limit for Assistance Units that include at least one member who is aged 60 or older or disabled is $15,317. Subsequent increases to the resource limit will occur every January 1, beginning in 2023, if there is an increase to the California Necessities Index.  Restricted account rules will remain unchanged. (ACL 21-56, May 18, 2021.)

CalWORKs and CalFresh changes to semi-annual reporting and annual recertification

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued instructions regarding changes to the semi-annual reporting and annual recertification processes. CalFresh Households and CalWORKs assistance units now provide information about income received during the 30 days prior to submitting the annual recertification.  Counties must determine the relevant period based on when the household or assistance unit submits their annual recertification or when the county sends a CW 2200 Request for Verification form.  This does not change the process for semi-annual reports or initial applications.

Counties must request verification of any income received during the 30 days prior to submission of the annual recertification.  Verification is not required for households or assistance units that report no income during the 30 days prior to submission of the annual recertification. Verification is also not required the income source has stopped (for example job loss) or the income is not reasonably anticipated to continue, and the loss of income is not questionable.

If complete income information is not submitted with the annual recertification, the county must send a CW 2200 Request for Verification form to request verification of income.  The CW 2200 must list the specific date range for which income verification is requested.  The CW 2200 must request income verification for 30 days prior to the date of the form.  If the client returns income verification that is outside of the 30 day period stated on the form, but is sufficient to determine eligibility, the county must accept it.

The 30 day verification period may not always fall within one calendar month.  The household or assistance unit can only be required to provide income verification for a specific calendar month.  If the household or assistance unit submit income verification that crosses more than one month, the county must convert the income to a monthly average.

There is no change to the process for either delayed processing of CalFresh application, or CalWORKs late redetermination and good cause for late filing.

Semi-annual reports (SAR 7) no longer must be signed no earlier than the first of the month to be considered complete.  The SAR 7 is now considered complete if the form is signed and dated by persons specified by CDSS, all questions and items are fully answered, and all required verification is provided.

Personal contact for late or incomplete SAR 7 can now be made by text or other electronic means if the household or assistance unit consents.

Counties must implement one of these interview scheduling methods for CalWORKs no later than July 1, 2021: time block interviews, telephonic contact in conjunction with written communication about scheduling an interview, and same day interviews.  For time block interviews, the designated time block must give households a reasonable window of time to expect a call.  Regardless of the scheduling method used, if a household misses its scheduled interview, at initial application or recertification, the county must send a Notice of Missed Interview.  (ACL 21-24, March 4, 2021.)

COVID-19 fourth extension of time eligibility for RCA, ECA and TCVAP

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued instructions for the fourth  extension of time eligibility for Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA), Entrant Cash Assistance (ECA) and Trafficking and Crime Victim Assistance Program (TCVAP).  Effective May 1, 2021, this extension applies to RCA, ECA and TCVAP until September 30, 2021.  This extension is limited to persons whose date of eligibility for benefits is April 1, 2019 through January 31, 2021.  Applicants who became eligible on or after February 1, 2021 are only eligible for their regular eight months of cash assistance.

Individuals who meet eligibility timeframes for RCA, ECA or TCVAP extensions but never applied for cash assistance may submit new applications for the fourth time extension.

Counties must provide uninterrupted assistance retroactive to May 1, 2021 through April 30, 2021 regardless of whether they received the prior benefits extension.  For benefits recipients who were scheduled to be terminated January 31, 2021, counties must rescind any discontinuances of benefits. Recipients who reached their time limit before August 31, 2020 may reapply for benefits.  Those persons must confirm that they were economically impacted by COVID-19.

Counties must notify RCA, ECA and TCVAP recipients receiving extended cash assistance of the time extension and continuance of aid at least 10 days prior to issuing cash payments.  For people receiving the extension for the first time or reapplying for the extension, counties must issue a notice that benefits will discontinue on September 30, 2021.

RCA, ECA and TCVAP use CalWORKs rules.  This means that Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (the extra $300 per week in addition to Unemployment Insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) does not county as income for both applicants and recipients, Golden State Stimulus payments are exempt from being considered income and are not considered assets for 12 months, and tax rebates and refunds, including additional tax rebates and refunds under the American Rescue Act, are exempt from being considered income and are not considered assets for 12 months.  (ACWDL, May 3, 2021.)