COVID-19 county welfare department office access

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) reminds counties of their legal requirements to ensure applicants and recipients have access to public social services benefits and services during an emergency or disaster.  Absent an order from federal, state or local officials to close counties to the public, counties must continue to offer in-person assistance to applicants and recipients in addition to telephone and internet assistance.

If a county closes during regular business hours, the county must: 1) provide the opportunity to file an application for and receive benefits within mandated timeframes by making applications available and providing a drop-box, mail slot or other reasonable means for filing applications; 2) provide the opportunity to file an application for and receive expedited CalFresh, immediate need CalWORKs, and homeless assistance by maintaining sufficient staff to accept and act on all such applications, and/or maintain a local telephone service with sufficient staff to accept and act upon all applications as if the requests has been made in person at the county office; 3) have a telephone announcement with working days and times, when the offices will be closed, and procedures for applying for benefits, and 4) post notices at welfare department offices of times when the office will be closed, procedures to obtain and file applications, and procedures for applying for and receiving expedited CalFresh, immediate need CalWORKs and homeless assistance within mandated time frames.

Counties must provide access to benefits and services by telephone in a timely manner.  Extended wait times, which require applicants and recipients to hold for hours or call back on multiple days are not compliant.

Best practices for counties include triaging client needs to limit lobby traffic and the number of people in the lobby, setting up stations outside of the county office to accept applications and screen for eligibility, providing accessible phones for clients when the county provides applications in boxes outside of a partially closed office, setting up drive through drop-off stations for no contact delivery of documents, issuing homeless assistance benefits to the client’s EBT card, and offering pick-up mail services for homeless clients.

Counties can also set up a laptop pilot program to loan participants mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, and establish a Digital Navigator program to help clients with digital access and learning, and developing digital skills.  (ACIN I-76-20, November 4, 2020.)