Changes to electronic benefits theft replacement form and policy

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued a new form EBT 2259 for reporting benefits stolen by electronic theft.

CDSS has also changed its policy about electronic theft.  People reporting electronic theft no longer need to contact the electronic benefits transfer vendor prior to submitting the form EBT 2259 to the county.  People no longer are required to file a police report to submit the form EBT 2259 and get replacement benefits.

Counties review the form EBT 2259 to ensure that the form is complete prior to submitting it to CDSS.  If the claim is for scamming benefits (people being tricked to give out the PIN to their EBT card), the county decides if the claim is consistent with typical scamming practices.  If it is not, the claim should be referred for investigation.

If the theft report is made timely (which is within 10 days of the theft, and submitting the EBT 2259 within 90 days), the county has 10 business days to issue benefit replacement.   The county has a duty to assist persons with the report within 10 business days.  If the county cannot process the form within 10 business days, it must issue replacement benefits.

If the county refers the case for investigation, the case can be pended for up to 25 calendar days.  (ACL 23-13, January 27, 2023.)

Extension of benefits eligibility for Afghan migrants

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has provided guidance extension of the arrival timeframe for Afghan Humanitarian Parolees and other persons who have left Afghanistan to be eligible for CalWORKs and CalFresh and refugee resettlement benefits.

Afghan Humanitarian Parolees, and their spouse and children, are eligible for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees.  Persons are Afghan Humanitarian Parolees if they are citizens or national paroled into the United States between July 31, 2021 and December 16, 2022 (an extension of the original cutoff date of September 30, 2022.).  They are eligible from October 1, 2021 or the date they are paroled in the United States, whichever is later, to March 31, 2023, or the end of parolees’ parole term, whichever is later.  Benefits that Humanitarian Parolees, and their spouse, children, parents or legal guardians are eligible for are Refugee Cash Assistance, CalWORKs, CalFresh, SSI, Refugee Support Services, and Services for Older Refugees.  Counties should redetermine eligibility for benefits when parole has expired or by March 31, 2023, whichever is later.

Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders, Special Immigrant Conditional Permanent Residents, and Afghan Special Immigrant Lawful Permanent Residents are eligible for public benefits to the same extent as refugees if their status is established between July 31, 2021 and December 16, 2022.

Effective November 21, 2022, Afghan parolees and their families with certain classes of admission are considered work authorized without waiting for their employment authorization.  This allows them to enroll in Refugee Cash Assistance employment services.  Their unexpired I-94 is sufficient to show employment authorization for 90 days after they are hired.

Afghan Humanitarian Parolees, and their spouse, children, parents and legal guardian, who are admitted into the United States between July 31, 2021 and December 16, 2022 are eligible for CalFresh.  They are not subject to the five year waiting period for refugees. They are eligible until March 31, 2023.

CDSS has provided an updated list of acceptable verification and an updated chart of acceptable verification.  (ACWDL, December 14, 2022.)

Impact of Social Security COLA on CalWORKs and CalFresh

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued information to County Welfare Departments (CWDs) that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will receive a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) effective December 30, 2022, and payable January 1, 2023. Depending on household composition, it will impact the CalWORKs grant and/or CalFresh benefit amount.

Social Security and SSI recipients will receive an 8.7% COLA effective January 1, 2023. Counties must give timely and adequate notice when the CalWORKs grant or the CalFresh benefit amount is adjusted because of a due to Social Security COLA.

For new CalWORKs and CalFresh applicants, the Social Security benefit amount, including the COLA increase, will be used to determine eligibility January 2023.

The Social Secuity COLA is considered reasonably anticipated income. The Social Security COLA is considered “known to the county” and shall be acted upon mid-period. Counties must take county-initiated mid-period action to adjust benefits effective January 1, 2023, for all cases in which Social Security benefits are being used to determine the CalWORKs grant or CalFresh benefit. For cases with a report due in December 2022, counties will include the COLA amount in the budget for the upcoming Semi-Annual Reporting (SAR) payment period.

CalWORKs cases subject to Annual Reporting/Child Only (AR/CO) rules, the amount of the SSA COLA will be considered “known to the county” and acted upon mid-period.

If counties do not decrease the CalWORKs grant or CalFresh benefit amount as a result of the increased January 2023 Social Security payment, they must reduce grant amounts in the month after they give timely and adequate notice.  In those cases, there will be an overpayment or overissuance for January.

SSI payments are exempt in CalWORKs; however, income should still be updated for excluded assistance unit (AU) members.  (ACIN I-72-22, November 8, 2022 and I-72-22E, January 4, 2023.)


CalWORKs for Humboldt earthquake victims and evacuees

The California Department of Social Services has issued a reminder about policy for processing CalWORKs cases for victims and evacuees of state and/or federally declared disasters. On December 20, 2022, Governor Newsom issued an Emergency Proclamation for Humboldt County due to the effects of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake

For evacuees who apply for CalWORKs, if the applicant and the county make a good faith effort to obtain verification and are unable to do so, including identity, time on aid, and CalWORKs eligibility factors, the county must accept the evacuee’s statements signed under penalty of perjury in lieu of verification.

When an evacuee applies for CalWORKs, counties must establish that the evacuee was living in a county designated as a federal disaster and/or state-declared emergency zone and ask if the evacuee or anyone else in their family is receiving CalWORKs from that county or another disaster county.

Counties are reminded that COVID-19 flexibilities remain in place and apply to evacuees, including flexibility regarding pregnancy verification, in-person photo identification requirements, and signature requirements.

Disaster evacuees applying for or receiving CalWORKs aid must be informed of their semi-annual and annual reporting responsibilities. Counties must advise evacuees to try to get documentation of eligibility factors impacting for benefits, and to ask for help from the county in getting documentation if they need it.

CalWORKs recipients may be eligible for nonrecurring special needs payments because of emergencies from the fires, such as damage to or loss of shelter or belongings. Nonrecurring special needs funds can be used to repair or replace clothing or household equipment, to provide assistance for damages to the home, or to pay for interim shelter when the AU’s home was destroyed or made uninhabitable or inaccessible. The maximum nonrecurring special needs payment is $600 for each individual incident.

Disaster assistance from federal, state or local government or disaster assistance organizations is excluded from consideration as income.

For CalWORKs applicants, counties are encouraged to offer CalWORKs diversion to evacuees to address their specific crisis or item of need. Applicants in an emergency should be evaluated for Immediate Need Payments. Both applicant and recipient evacuees should be entitled to an exception to the once in twelve months limitation on receiving Homeless Assistance. Recipient evacuees may also be eligible the CalWORKs Housing Support Program.

A written statement from the applicant is sufficient to establish intent to establish residency in California and in the county of application for the foreseeable future. Receipt of benefits at an address outside of California for two months or longer is not apparent evidence of intent to reside outside of California when return to California is prevented by a disaster.

For income, it is expected that some evacuees will no longer have reasonably anticipated income because of the disaster. For property and resources, counties must consider the applicant’s ability to access, occupy or sell their property at the time of application because of the disaster.

For families temporarily separated because of the disaster, a family member is considered temporary absent if they expect to reunite within one full calendar month. CalWORKs recipients can maintain a home in a different county than the county they are physically residing in if they intend to return to that home within four months.

Most evacuated families will not be able to participate in welfare-to-work activities. Counties should make a good cause determination for evacuated families for nonparticipation in welfare-to-work activities. Counties should also determine if an applicant needs barrier removal services such as mental health services or housing stabilization program services and provide these services as expeditiously as possible.  (ACWDL, December 29, 2022.)

Extension of COVID-19 CalFresh waivers

California has been granted waivers of the initial application and recertification interview (if certain criteria are met); and of the recording requirement for telephonic signatures (if certain criteria are met) because of COVID-19.  These waivers have been extended until March 31, 2023.

Approval of these waivers requires California to state that a State of Emergency or disaster declaration continues at the time of the request.  The federal Food and Nutrition Service will approve additional waivers for up to three months.  If the State wants to continue using a waiver for longer than three months, the State can submit an extension request in the third month of the waiver timeframe.  No waiver may continue beyond the end of the month after the month when the federal COVID-19 public health emergency declaration is lifted by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  (ACWDL, December 21, 2022.)