CalWORKs, CalFresh, RCA/ECA and TCVAP guidance regarding California wildfires

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance flexibility for counties serving communities affected by wildfires.

If a county office closes during regular business hours, they must make it possible for people to apply for and receive CalWORKs, CalFresh, Refugee Cash Assistance/Entrant Cash Assistance (RCA/ECA) and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program (TCVAP) including emergency benefits, within timeframes required by state and federal law.  Counties must also provide notice of their hours of operation, and the procedures for applying for and receiving benefits when the office is closed.

For CalWORKs, 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, the county must accept the evacuee’s statements signed under penalty of perjury in lieu of verification.  If a social security number is unavailable, the individual must apply to the Social Security Administration for a new card and provide verification the completed application.  If the applicant has attempted in good faith to get verification but cannot, the county must temporary accept the evacuee’s statement under penalty of perjury.

When an individual or family displaced by fires 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 encouraged to offer CalWORKs diversion to evacuees to address their specific crisis or item of need.

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

For new applicants, evacuees should be informed pf the option to apply for temporary and permanent homeless assistance.  Applicant families are entitled to an exception to the one-every-twelve months limit because of a disaster.  When homelessness is the result of a state or federally declared disaster, the county may issue all 16 days of temporary homeless assistance in one lump sum payment.  If homelessness is caused by a disaster, the family is entitled to 16 days o disaster homeless assistance and then 16 days of regular homeless assistance.  Counties are also encouraged to refer clients to the Housing Support Program when a family is approved for CalWORKs.

Evacuee families should be evaluated for CalWORKs immediate need.  In determining eligibility for immediate need, liquid resources only include items that are immediately available.  Many evacuees may not be able to convert resources to cash prior to or after evacuation.

In counting income, some evacuees will no longer have income that is reasonably anticipated because of the disaster.

In counting property, only real and personal property that is actually available is considered for CalWORKs eligibility.  Many evacuees will not be able to access, occupy or sell their property at the time of application because of the disaster.  The county must consider the applicant’s ability and circumstances in meeting property provisions.

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.

Counties should make a good cause determination for welfare-to-work 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.

Current RCA/ECA and TCVAP recipients are eligible for the same waivers of existing rules as CalWORKs recipients.

Note that applicants for RCA/ECA and TCVAP are not required to provide Social Security Numbers.

RCA/ECA and TCVAP applicants impacted by the fires should be evaluated for an expedited emergency payment.

For CalFresh, counties statewide must serve displaced households under regular eligibility rules, including expedited service, regardless of whether the household is a permanent resident of the county of application.  When verification of residency is impossible, the county must accept self-certification.  Counties cannot impose a length of residency.  If the displaced household cannot provide necessary verification, self-certification or an affidavit can be used in place of the requested verification.

For recipients, food lost due to household misfortune, including fire, flood or loss of electricity, can be replaced.  CalFresh household must report the loss to the county within 10 days of the loss unless the county has been approved for an extension of timely reporting rules.  (ACWDL, September 1, 2020.)