CalWORKs and winter storm disaster

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued a reminder about policy for processing CalWORKs cases for victims and evacuees of state and/or federally declared disasters. Because of the winter storms, Governor Newsom issued statewide Emergency Proclamations affecting Amador, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sierra, Sonoma, Tulare, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Humboldt, Imperial, Inyo, Lake, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Yuba counties. In addition, on December 20, 2022, Governor Newsom issued an Emergency Proclamation for Humboldt County due to the effects of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake.  These disasters have made it necessary for some families to evacuate their home counties.

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.  These flexibilities should allow for effective disaster response.

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.

Families who are in an emergency should be evaluated for an immediate need payment.

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.

Counties must maintain the ability for families to apply for Homeless Assistance benefits during normal business hours.  Temporary Homeless Assistance must be issued or denied within the same working day as the request.  Permanent Homeless Assistance must be approved or denied within one business day.

Homeless Assistance can be issued in one lump sum payment for 16 days when homelessness is caused by a declared disaster.  Counties must accept sworn statements of how homeless assistance money is spent, or counties can grant good cause for not providing paper verification such as motel receipts.  Homeless Assistance applications are not required to be made in person or to include a face-to-face interview.  Counties can complete the homeless assistance Statement of Facts on behalf of the family and accept electronic signature or oral attestation.

The CalWORKs Housing Support Program can provide interim housing, including hotels and motels, for disaster evacuees.  CDSS does not limit the number of days the Housing Support Program can cover hotels or motels.

Counties must notify CDSS when they will be closed during normal business hours.  CDSS asks counties to report closures because of a disaster to CDSS as soon as it is safe to do so. (ACWDL, April 3, 2023.)

Addendum — Contra Costa, Riverside, San Diego, and Yolo counties are also now declared disaster counties and are subject to these policies.  (ACWDL. April 27. 2023.)