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.)