Changes to CalWORKs student rules

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has informed counties about changes to CalWORKs student rules.  These changes modify the student program established by SB 1232, and implemented by ACL 21-04E, summarized here.  CDSS is now calling this program Student Training and Education Program (STEP).  The program includes standard supportive services payments, not needed to complete job search, and welfare-to-work counting three hours of study time for each hour of class time.

The most important change is STEP participants are no longer required to participate in welfare-to-work activities during school breaks.  This includes within terms and between terms, winter and summer breaks, and transfer periods between institutions.  This means that bridging activities and bridging activity plans can no longer be required.  STEP participants can volunteer to participate during breaks and are entitled to supportive services in the same way that all volunteer participants are.

The STEP program now includes non-profit postsecondary institutions in addition to public postsecondary institutions.

Students who are not eligible for STEP must not be enrolled in a Self-Initiated Program instead.

For purposes of STEP, summer sessions are counted as quarters.  This means that full time students in the summer get a $375 standard supportive services payment, and part-time students get a $175 standard supportive services payment.

Counties no longer need to do a welfare-to-work plan for each new academic term.  However, students must have a plan to get supportive services. Counties cannot require a plan prior to advance paying supportive services.

Counties may now calculate a part-time STEP participant’s hours using either academic units or instruction hours.  Whether a student is full-time or part-time is determined by the institution.

STEP participants cannot be required to participate in orientation and appraisal more than once, unless the participant has had a break of at least one year in receiving aid or supportive services.  (ACL 24-32, May 10, 2024.)

Lottery winnings match

The Income and Eligibility and Verification (IEVS) system now a has match with the California Lottery. The system will provide monthly reports of people who received over the maximum allowable resources for a CalFresh or disabled household.

Federal law requires CalFresh households to report substantial lottery and gambling winnings during the certification period within 10 days of receiving the winnings.  Substantial winnings is defined as a cash prize won in a single game, purchase of a ticket, hand or similar bet, which is equal to or greater than the resource limit for CalFresh elderly or disabled households.

The reason for this match is to comply with federal requirements.

When there is a match, counties must review the case information to determine if the household reported the lottery winnings.  Case narration is acceptable as a report of lottery winnings.  If the winnings have not been reported, the county must send a verification letter to the household within 45 days.  If the recipient does not respond to the letter with sufficient information to resolve the discrepancy, the county must discontinue the entire household. A household that is discontinued can reapply at any time, but the household cannot be considered categorically eligible for CalFresh.

For CalWORKs, if the assistance unit must be terminated if the lottery winnings take the household above the current CalWORKs resource limit.  (ACL 24-29, April 24, 2024.)

Verification and eligibility for public benefits for public interest parolees

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding verification and eligibility for persons paroled into the United States under Immigration and Naturalization Act section 212(d)(5), also known as public interest parolees, when determining eligibility for CalWORKs, CalFresh, California Food Assistance Program (CFAP), Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA), and Entrant Cash Assistance (ECA).

When someone entering the United States is granted parole status at a port of entry or District Office, they are given a DT code.

People who are paroled into the United States are eligible for CalWORKs.  In verifying parole status for CalWORKs, counties must accept documentation showing the DT code and the length of parole, and must not ask for additional verification.  Counties can ask for additional verification or run a SAVE match if the length of parole is unclear.  Counties must review CalWORKs applications received after June 30, 2023 and were denied for failure to provide additional verification of parole status, and retroactively approve aid if the family is otherwise eligible.  When the recipient’s parole term expires, counties must evaluate whether the family meets another eligible noncitizen category.

Office of Refugee Resettlement eligible parolees are eligible for RCA or ECA if they meet all other program eligibility requirements.  Any CalWORKs applicant with a DT code who is found ineligible for CalWORKs should be evaluated for RCA and ECA. Counties must review RCA applications received after June 30, 2023 and were denied for failure to provide additional verification of parole status, and retroactively approve aid if the family is otherwise eligible.

To be eligible for CalFresh, a parolee must have a duration of parole into the United States of at least one year, and must have been in the United States for 5 years.

To be eligible for CFAP, a parolee must have a duration of parole into the United States of at least one year.  CFAP does not have the 5 year waiting period requirement. (ACL 24-27, April 24, 2024.)

Child Support pass through in former assistance cases

Effective May 1, 2024, all child support collections in cases where the family previously received CalWORKs benefts, including collections assigned to arrears owed to the government for recoupment of CalWORKs benefits, will be paid to the family receiving child support.  This change is not retroactive.  Collections in former assistance cases made before May 1, 2024 can still be retained by the government agency to recoup CalWORKs benefits paid to the family.

Effective May 1, 2024, child support collections that are passed through in cases where the family previously received CalWORKs, will count towards reimbursing the government agency for CalWORKs previously received by the family.  Any child support collected that exceeds the amount of CalWORKs received by the family will be passed through to the family.

Any pass through payments that cannot be delivered to the former aid recipient within six months will be retained by the government agency to recoup CalWORKs that was paid.  The former recipient has 12 months after the payment is used for CalWORKs recoupment to make a claim for that payment.  If the former aid recipient is deceased, collected child support will be used to recoup CalWORKs that was previously paid. (CSSI Letter 24-04, May 1, 2024.)

Changes to CalWORKs recipient financial eligibility test

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding continuing financial eligibility for CalWORKs recipients.  When a family receiving CalWORKs has an income increase that takes over 130% of the Federal Poverty Level (the Income Reporting Threshold or IRT), they must report that to the county.  This is a report that must be made mid-period when it happens, this is between required semi-annual reports.

Counties must now determine continuing eligibility after an income report of income report determining: 1) whether the income is over the IRT; 2) if it is over the IRT, is it reasonable anticipated to continue; 3) if it is does the income reported, minus any of that income which is exempt from consideration for CalWORKs purposes, is more than the IRT.  If it is, the CalWORKs grant will be recalculated accordingly.  The critical change is subtracting any exempt income before redetermining eligibility and benefit amount.

Families must continue to report when their total gross and unearned income exceeds the IRT, but continuing financial eligibility will be determined after determining if the income is reasonably anticipated to continue, and whether it exceeds the IRT after subtracting exempt income.

This change also applies to Refugee Cash Assistance, Entrant Cash Assistance, and Trafficking and Crime Victim Assistance Program benefits.  (ACL 23-96, December 26, 2023.)

New policy for in person PIN changes on EBT cards

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has a new policy about in person requests for changes to the PIN number on Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. This policy change is because of an increase in in person fraudulent requests to change PIN numbers.

In person PIN changes at a county outside of cardholders residence will no longer be allowed.  Counties must tell people that they can change their PIN number by calling the Automated Response Unit number on the back of the card, or by using the ebtEDGE app or online portal.

If there is a pending intercounty transfer, the county must issue a new card.  If benefits remain on the old card from the previous county, the new county must change the PIN number.

For in person PIN change requests in the county of benefit issuance, counties must verify the identity of the person asking to change the PIN.  The identity information and the physical EBT card must match the case information in CalSAWS before the PIN is changed.  The county must also check the PIN change receipt to make sure the last four digits of the card number on the receipt match the physical card number.

Only the cardholder can change the PIN on their own EBT card.

To verify identity, the county must first use a photo ID.  If the individual does not present a photo ID, the county must verify two points of personal identifying information from the case:  name of any other persons on the case and their relationship on the case, date of birth, last four digits of Social Security Number, or address on the case.  (ACL 24-25, April 10, 2024.)