CalFresh and CFAP ABAWD percentage exemptions

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has guidance regading percentage exemptions from the Able-bodied Adults Without Dependants (ABAWD) work rules and time limit for CalFresh and the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP).  Federal law gives each state a number of exemptions from the ABAWD rules equal to 12 percent of the state’s annual caseload.  These percentage exceptions allow counties to extend CalFresh eligibility to ABAWDs who would otherwise be ineligible.  Each percentage exception gives one full month of eligibility to one individual subject to the ABAWD time limit.

In general, CFAP recipients are treated the same as individual receiving CalFresh, including application of the ABAWD rules.  Individuals at risk of losing CFAP benefits because of the ABAWD time limit may receive a state-funded percentage exemption.

Any ABAWD who is temporarily excused from meeting work requirements under a percentage exemption remains subject to the ABAWD time limit rules and must meet work requirements, qualify for an exemption, or reside in an area where the ABAWD requirements are waived to continue receiving CalFresh or CFAP after their percentage exemption expires.

California has a three step process before applying a percentage exemption.  First, counties must screen for an exemption for the ABAWD time limit at application, period report and recertification using information in the case record and individualized assessments.  Second, counties should engage ABAWDs to support them in finding additional work and/or participating in qualifying work activities, including referral to local workforce partners, volunteer activities or other training or education programs.  Third, the county can provide a percentage exemption if the individual meets additional criteria as determined by the county.

The counties implementing the ABAWD time limit between September 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019 were San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.  Any CFAP percentage exceptions remaining after August 31, 2019 will be recouped and redistributed among all counties implementing the ABAWD time limit effective September 1, 2019.  (ACL 19-60, July 2, 2019.)

CalFresh cost-of-living adjustments

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued the CalFresh cost-of living adjustments (COLA) for Federal Fiscal Year 2020. The COLA increases the Maximum Shelter Deduction, the Homeless Shelter Deduction, the Standard Deduction, the Standard Utility Allowance, the Limited Utility Allowance, the Telephone Utility Allowance and the income eligibility standards.  The COLA is effective October 1, 2019.

Counties must inform all CalFresh households of the COLA and the new utility deduction amounts no later than October 1, 2019.  Counties may use an informing notice, or can use news or media outlets and post information in certification offices, issuance locations and other sites frequented by CalFresh recipients. (ACIN I-54-19, August 21, 2019.)

Fiscal year 2020 Income Reporting Threshold

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued the new Income Reporting Threshold (IRT) amounts for federal fiscal year 2020.  The IRT is the amount that triggers reporting requirements mid-period.  The new IRT levels are effective October 1, 2019.

Assistance Units are required to report when their total combined earned and unearned income exceeds the IRT amount.  Assistance Units with only unearned income are not required to report when that income by itself exceeds the IRT mid-period.

When a family receives income over the IRT amount and reports it to the county, the county must determine of the reported income is reasonably anticipated to continue.  If the income over the IRT will continue but not at a level that will result in ineligibility, the county must use the new reasonably anticipated income to recalculate the grant.

Counties must send an informing notice to recipients that is individualized for each assistance unit.  Counties must inform recipients of their IRT at least one per semi-annual reporting period or whenever their IRT changes.  The IRT level in which the recipient was last notified is used for reporting purposes until the county has informed the recipient of a change to their IRT.

These instructions also apply to Refugee Case Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crime Victim Assistance Programs.  (ACL 19-85, August 15, 2019.)

Verifying shelter costs for CalFresh excess shelter deduction

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued instructions implementing AB 494 that requires counties to accept shelter costs reported by a CalFresh applicant or recipient on a signed application, periodic report or recertification.  Counties cannot request additional verification unless the expenses reported are questionable.

Counties must deduct the actual amount of the household’s monthly shelter costs in excess of 50 percent of their income after all other deductions.  The excess shelter cost deduction cannot be more than the current maximum unless the household includes at least one elderly and/or disabled member.

Allowable shelter costs include rent, mortgage payment, loan payment on a mobile home, condominium and homeowner association fees, property taxes and insurance on the home.

To be considered questionable, information reported must be inconsistent with statements made by the applicant or inconsistent with other information received by the county.  If the reported shelter expense is questionable, the county must verify it before allowing the deduction.  Counties cannot require a specific document or type of verification.  Acceptable verification includes rental agreement, rent receipts, mortgage bills, property tax assessment, home or renter’s insurance bills, hotel receipts, cancelled checks or copies. The reason a reported shelter cost was determined questionable, the request for verification, and any verification provided by the household, must be documented in the case file.  (ACL 19-86, August 21, 2019.)

CalFresh medical deduction for medical travel

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued policy guidance regarding verification and deduction of medical expenses, specifically transportation, for CalFresh eligibility.

Households can claim the excess medical deduction for non-reimbursed medical expenses over $35 per month incurred by an elderly and/or disabled household member.  The standard medical expense deduction is $120.  Households can request using actual medical expenses when medical expenses are over $155 per month.

Medical expenses must be verified for households to claim the medical expense deduction.  Counties cannot require a specific type of verification.  Counties must assist households in obtaining verification if needed.  If the household cannot provide verification, the county determines the CalFresh grant without the medical expense deduction.  Households can claim and verify medical expenses at any time.  Households may use the CF31 form to report medical expenses.

Counties should not re-verify medical expenses if they are unchanged or a change is $25 or less.  Households remain eligible for the standard medical expense deduction if they report their medical expenses continue to exceed $35 per month.

Allowable medical expenses include the cost of transportation to obtain treatment or services.  This includes transportation to health care appointments and pharmacies and to other locations to fill prescriptions, fittings for dentures, hearing aids or glasses.

Households must verify expenses for public transportation, taxis and ride shares.  For travel by private vehicle, the county must accept a verbal or written statement that the travel was required for medical reasons unless that statement is questionable.  County staff then calculates the mileage using a mapping application.  A copy of the map must be kept in the client’s case file.  Gas receipts are not required.  Mileage counts at the IRS rate which is currently 58 cents per mile.  (ACL 19-89, August 28, 2019.)

Gender and name changes in child support cases

The California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) has issued a policy that individuals may change their gender with the DCSS at any time.  Local Child Support Agencies must accept any change of an individual’s gender to male, female or nonbinary without the need for documentation or form completion.  Gender changes may or may not be accompanied by name changes.

A name change requires a government issued form of identification such as a driver’s license or a Social Security card with a new legal name.

All Local Child Support Agencies must change all materials, including county specific forms and outreach materials, to comply with AB 179, the Gender Recognition Act, including but not limited to adding a nonbinary gender option and removing gender specific pronouns.  (CSSP Letter 19-06, July 31, 2019.)