CalFresh mass replacement for Northern California power outages

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved mass replacement of CalFresh benefits for area impacted by public outages in Northern California in August, 2023.  Based on USDA’s approval, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) will automatically replace 30 percent of CalFresh benefits for August, 2023 for zip codes: Calaveras: 95223 and 95247 Contra Costa: 94514 Del Norte: 95531, 95543, 95548, and 95567 Humboldt: 95556, 95558, and 95546 Kings: 93204 Lake: 95426 Mariposa: 95325 Nevada: 95975 Placer: 95715 Santa Cruz: 95006 Siskiyou: 95568 Trinity: 95527 and 95563 Tulare: 93633 Tuolumne: 95321 and 95372.  CDSS will automatically replace 25 percent of CalFresh benefits for August, 2023 for zip codes: Colusa: 95979 Glenn: 95939 Humboldt: 95569 Shasta: 96065, 96084, and 96047 Tehama: 96029 and 96074.

The replacement benefits will be issued to all regular CalFresh households in those zip codes.  Households that have already received replacement benefits based on a signed affidavit of loss will not receive the mass replacement benefits.  Households can submit a signed affidavit of loss to request more than the amount of the mass replacement benefits. (USDA Letters, September 8, 2023 and September 15, 2023.)

CalWORKs Income Reporting Threshold for Fiscal Year 2024

Effective October 1, 2023, new CalWORKs Income Reporting Threshold (IRT) will be effective.  The new IRT amounts are in a chart attached to this ACL.  Income over the IRT amount must be reported mid-period, that is, when it occurs between semi-annual reports or annual recertifications.  Income that must be reported is the total combined earned and unearned income of the assistance unit.  The IRT reporting amount is 55% of the federal poverty level for a family of 3, plus the amount of income used most recently used to determine the assistance unit’s grant.  Income over the IRT must be reported within 10 days of receipt.

Assistance Units with no income or only unearned income are required to report income changes only if they receive new earned income that, when combined with other earned income, exceeds the IRT.

When income over the IRT is reported to the county, the county must determine if the income is reasonably anticipated to continue.  If it is reasonably anticipated to continue, the county must redetermine the CalWORKs grant amount using the new income amount.  If the grant will be decreased, the county must give timely and adequate notice to decrease the grant at the end of the month.  If the new income amount exceeds 130% of the Federal Poverty Level, the county must discontinue CalWORKs at the end of the month after timely and adequate notice is given.

It is possible that there will be some cases that are over the IRT, but under 130% of the Federal Poverty Level, where the assistance unit will not be eligible for a cash grant.  Those cases will have zero grant, but will be eligible for supportive services and CalWORKs special needs.

Counties must inform recipients of their IRT at application approval, at least once per semi-annual reporting period, and whenever the IRT amount changes.  The IRT level which the recipient was last notified of is used for reporting purposes.  (ACL 23-75, August 31, 2023.)

Increase in CalWORKs Maximum Aid Payment

Effective October 1, 2023, the CalWORKs Maximum Aid Payment (MAP) will increase by 3.6%.  In addition, the 10% MAP increase that was scheduled to end on September 30, 2023 will continue.

The 3.6% increase in the MAP may cause a decrease in CalFresh benefits.  Counties must give written notice of any CalFresh grant decrease because of the MAP increase no later than September 20, 2023.

Counties must send a notice to all CalWORKs recipients informing of the MAP increase and the potential CalFresh decrease no later than September 1, 2023. Counties must also send individualized notices giving each assistance unit information specific to their CalWORKs grant amount.

CDSS has updated the child MAP charts to reflect the October 1, 2023 MAP increase.  The child MAP is used to determine if child support received on behalf of a child is more than the CalWORKs grant amount for that child.  If the child support received on behalf of a child is more than then CalWORKs grant amount for that child, the assistance unit has the option of having that child opt-out of the assistance unit.  The county may add the child back into the grant mid-period if the child support received is no longer greater than the CalWORKs grant amount.  If the child support received remains lower than the CalWORKs grant amount, the county must add the child to the CalWORKs grant at the next semi-annual review or annual recertification.

These changes must be programmed into the CalSAWS computer system no later than October 1, 2023.  If they are not, CalSAWS must provide counties with a manual work-around to ensure that families receive the correct amount of benefits.  (ACL 23-74, August 30, 2023.)

Increase in CalWORKs resource limit

Effective January 1, 2024, the CalWORKs resource limit for applicants and recipients will increase to $11,634 or $17,452 for assistance units that include at least one member who is age 60 or older, or disabled. This is a 6.85% increase based on the California Necessities Index. This increase also applies to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance, and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program.  (ACL 23-71, September 1, 2023.)

Waivers and flexibilities for application for RCA, ECA, TCVAP and RSS

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding waivers and flexibilities that apply to Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA), Entrant Cash Assistance (ECA), Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program (TCVAP), Refugee Support Services (RSS), and RSS set aside programs, such as Services to Older Refugees (SOR). The waiver and flexibility policies were issued in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) letter 23-01.

The waivers and flexibilities are effective beginning October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2023 when they will automatically expire, without further notice. Once expired, waivers and flexibilities will no longer apply unless further extended by CDSS.

The requirement for written declarations from applicants of their immigration status has been waived to provide states time to increase their capacity to serve the influx populations. The process for obtaining the declarations may be conducted over the phone. Verbal declarations must be supported by a written declaration as soon as possible. If unable to meet in-person with applicants, counties can confirm immigrant status eligibility through a database or other electronic means without first checking documentation. A eligibility determination may be made if the declaration shows the applicant has the status or category that confers eligibility for services. Applicants must provide proof of their immigration status within 90 days of making a written or verbal declaration.

The determination that an applicant is not eligible for TANF/CalWORKs prior to providing RCA benefits has been waived in order to allow recipients to receive benefits and services while waiting for approval for TANF/CalWORKs. This includes inability to apply for or receive a Social Security Number.  If, however, the recipient of RCA benefits is later approved for TANF/CalWORKs and given retroactive payments, they must pay back the funds given to them through RCA. Counties should inform applicants about this possibility of recoupment. Counties must ensure that RCA benefits are discontinued for clients who are approved for TANF/CalWORKs before their eligibility for RCA ends.

Recipients of RCA funds must enroll or be referred to employment services within 30 days after issuance. CWDs may use virtual means to provide employment services only when it is in the best interest of the recipients.  Virtual services should be complementary to in-person instruction.

The eligibility criteria (except immigrant status/category) for ECA for Cuban Haitian Entrants is the same as RCA.  Therefore, the ECA program receives the same flexibilities and waivers as the RCA program. Similarly, the eligibility criteria (except legal status) for TCVAP are the same as RCA and as such the same flexibilities and waivers apply.  (ACWDL, July 14, 2023.)