CalWORKs for Oak fire and McKinley fire evacuees

The California Department of Social Services has issued a reminder about policy for processing CalWORKs cases for persons evacuated because of the Oak Fire in Mariposa County and the McKinley fire in Siskiyou County.

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 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.

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 new 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.  Evacuees should be entitled to an exception to the once in twelve months limitation on receiving Homeless Assistance.

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.

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.  (ACWDL, August 1, 2022 [McKinley fire], ACWDL, July 26, 2022 [Oak fire]

CalWORKs Family Stabilization for baby formula

In light of the shortage and increase in price of baby formula, the California Department of Social Services encourages counties to use the CalWORKs Family Stabilization program to help CalWORKs Welfare-To-Work (WTW) participants to obtain or cover costs related to baby formula.

CalWORKs WTW clients are eligible to participate in Family Stabilization when county determines that the family is experiencing an identified situation and/or crisis that is destabilizing the family. This includes families that are struggling to feed their children because they cannot obtain formula or are having difficulty affording baby formula.

CalWORKs recipients who are exempt from WTW are also eligible to participate in Family Stabilization if the county determines that Family Stabilization will enable future WTW participation.  (ACWDL, June 3, 2022, and errata ACWDL, August 2, 2022.)

CalWORKs Welfare-to-Work pregnancy exemption

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding Senate Bill 65 (Chapter 449, Statutes of 2021) which allows all pregnant persons to be exempt from WTW. Senate Bill 65 initially took effect on the 1st of January 2022 but CDSS delayed notice of this change because CalWORKs recipients have been exempt from WTW because of COVID-19.  

Pregnant recipients are no longer required to provide proof of medical impairment to be exempt from participation in WTW activities. Pregnant recipients are any pregnant person in any trimester of their pregnancy, verified through a sworn written statement or verbal attestation. Following a request for a WTW exemption based on pregnancy, recipients are required to submit medical verification of their pregnancy to the county within 30 working days. 

The pregnancy exemption from WTW does not stop the CalWORKs time on caid clock.  Eligible pregnant recipients may be able to get a time limit exemption by requesting a different WTW exemption such as an exemption for disability. 

If a pregnant recipient chooses to participate as an exempt volunteer, they must agree to a WTW plan including an activity of their choice to receive WTW services that consist of child care, diaper costs, transportation, ancillary expenses, and to the extent of their availability, personal counseling and related supportive services. Not complying with the WTW plan returns the participant to the pregnancy exemption.  (ACL 22-55, July 8, 2022.)

CalWORKs Maximun Aid Payment increase

Effective October 1, 2022, Senate Bill (SB) 187 grants an eleven percent increase to the CalWORKs Maximum Aid Payment (MAP).  This MAP increase remains effective unless there are insufficient funds, which will be determined before October 1 each year.

SB 187 grants an additional ten percent increase to the CalWORKs MAP that is effective until September 30, 2024.

Recipients must be informed of the MAP increase by October 1st. The country welfare department computer systems must have the MAP increase programmed into their system by October 1st, and if not, they must manually issue the benefits increase.

Under SB 380, children who receive child support in an amount more than the CalWORKs grant can opt-out of the CalWORKs case.  For some of these cases, the increase in the MAP will increase the CalWORKs payment to more than the child support paid.  In those cases, the family can ask to add the child to the CalWORKs case mid-period.  If the family does not ask for that mid-period change, the child will be added to the case at their following semi-annual report or annual recertification.

These grant increase are mandatory mid-period county actions.  For CalFresh, the CalWORKs increase is considered Verified Upon Receipt, meaning that it will immediately change the CalFresh allotment.  (ACL 22-60, July 20, 2022.)

End of requiring CalWORKs overpayments to be classified as administrative error

All CalWORKs overpayments established on or after August 1, 2021 for the period April, 2020 to either the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency or June 30, 2022, whichever is earlier, must be classified as administrative error.  Because the COVID-19 state of emergency remained in effect, the requirement to establish all CalWORKs overpayments as administrative error ended on June 30, 2022.  (ACWDL, June 27, 2022.)

Referring CALWORKS overpayments that occurred during COVID-19 for IPV investigation

CalWORKs overpayments established on or after August 1, 2021 for the period April, 2020 to or June 30, 2022, must be classified as administrative error.  However, counties are still required to refer any overpayment for investigation when they suspect fraud.  An overpayment that is initially classified as an AE under this policy must be reclassified if the county substantiates an Intentional Program Violation (IPV). An IPV can only be substantiated through a criminal court conviction, a signed Disqualification Consent Agreement, an Administrative Disqualification Hearing (ADH), or a signed ADH waiver.

Counties should consider how restrictions of in-person appointments, employment instability, income fluctuation, and delays in processing unemployment benefits have affected the ability for recipients to timely report changes when determining whether it is appropriate to refer a case for investigation as an intentional program violation.  (ACL 21-151, January 22, 2022.)