Changes to RCA, ECA and TCVAP

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) informs counties about the effect of various CalWORKs changes on the Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) program, Entrant Cash Assistance (ECA) program and Trafficking and Crime Victims Protection Act (TCVAP) benefits.  In general, CalWORKs financial eligibility and payment rules apply to RCA, ECA and TCVAP.

Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits now are considered disability-based unearned income for purposes of CalWORKs.  PFL benefits fall under the CalWORKs disability-based unearned income disregard.  As a result, PFL benefits also fall under the RCA, ECA and TCVAP disability-based unearned income disregard.

PFL benefits are also a CalWORKs 60-mont time on aid limit time limit clock stopper. However, PFL benefits do not stop the 12-month eligibility time limit for RCA, ECA and TCVAP.

RCA, ECA and TCVAP applicants who are 16 or 17 years old, and are full time students are exempt from employment registration.  Parents under age 20 are also exempt from employment registration.  Because of a change in CalWORKs law, an individual who loses this exemption may again receive it if they resume full-time school attendance if they are otherwise eligible.

Counties can exempt RCA, ECA and TCVAP recipients from employment registration for good cause.  Because of a change in CalWORKs law, these good cause reasons have been expanded to include that hours of employment are unpredictable,  the recipient has one of a list of labor or employment law violations, the recipients states they have experienced sexual harassment or other abusive conduct at work, or the recipient states that their rights under and federal, state or local labor or employment law were violated.  (See ACL 23-30, summarized here.)  (ACL 23-95, November 14. 2023.)

Withdrawing state hearing requests

California Department of Social Services (CDSS) State Hearings Division (SHD) has issued instructions regarding withdrawing of a state hearing request.  A claimant or the Authorized Representative can withdraw a hearing request any time before a decision is issued.

A withdrawal can be unconditional or conditional.  An unconditional withdrawal is a complete retraction of the hearing request without conditions.  There are three ways to unconditionally withdraw a hearing request.  A claimant can request an unconditional withdrawal in the ACMS computer system if they have an account.  A claimant can submit a request to unconditionally withdraw their hearing by mail, fax or email.  A claimant can submit a verbal request to unconditionally withdraw their hearing request using the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system or by telephone.  SHD will send a letter to the claimant confirming the unconditional withdrawal request.

The opposing party may be aware that the claimant wants to unconditionally withdraw their hearing request.  If the opposing party tells SHD that the claimant or their Authorized Representative wants to unconditionally withdraw a hearing request, SHD will contact the clamant to confirm their intent to unconditionally withdraw their hearing request. If the claimant has any questions, SHD will tell the claimant to talk to the opposing party.  If the claimant or Authorized Representative confirms that they want to unconditionally withdraw the hearing request, SHD will enter the withdrawal in ACMS and will send the claimant a letter confirming the unconditional withdrawal.

A conditional withdrawal is a retraction of the hearing request based on the opposing party’s agreement to certain actions to resolve the case.  A conditional withdrawal must be in writing signed by the claimant or their Authorized Representative.

SHD will accept any conditional withdrawal request that is submitted by mail, fax, email, text, IVR, phone, or uploaded to ACMS, that includes written terms and is signed by the opposing party and the claimant.  These methods are considered to be a valid electronic signature.

A claimant or Authorized Representative can confirm a conditional withdrawal by phone with SHD.  The opposing party must contact the claimant to confirm the agreement.  The opposing party cannot rely on a telephonic signature unless they have gotten the claimant’s consent.  If the opposing party parts gets consent, they must upload the terms to ACMS.  SHD will then contact the claimant to confirm the terms.

The claimant or Authorized Representative can use the SHD IVR to state the terms of a conditional withdrawal.  If the opposing party has their own IVR, it can upload a recording of the terms to ACMS.  The agreement must state that the parties complete all terms within 30 days.

If the case has multiple opposing parties, all parties must consent to the conditional withdrawal.

When a case is withdrawn, SHD will notify all parties that the hearing request has been dismissed.

If the claimant or Authorized Representative does not appear at the hearing and a conditional withdrawal has not been processed, SHD will dismiss the case.

A party can withdraw a rehearing request any time before SHD acts on it.  After a rehearing request has been granted, the claimant can withdraw it with the approval of the Chief Administrative Law Judge.  The parties can submit a conditional withdrawal to resolve the case after rehearing is granted.  SHD will review the terms to ensure that all issues in the rehearing are addressed, and then will forward the request to the Chief Administrative Law Judge for approval.  (ACL 23-82, September 19, 2023.)

 

Additions to county web pages regarding programs for immigrants

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding revising or adding information to county websites regarding programs available for Refugees; Asylees; Cuban/Haitian Entrants; certain Humanitarian Parolees; Special Immigrant Visa Holders; Amerasians; and Noncitizen Victims of Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, and Other Serious Crimes populations.

County webpages must include CalWORKs, CAPI, RCA, TCVAP, and all county programs available for Refugees; Asylees; Cuban/Haitian Entrants; certain Humanitarian Parolees; Special Immigrant Visa Holders; Amerasians; and Noncitizen Victims of Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, and Other Serious Crimes. Counties that do not have this information on their webpages should include it as soon as possible.  Counties that do not have this information on their webpage should notify CDSS as soon as the webpage updates are completed, but no later than December 1, 2023.

The information in the website should be clear and in plain language, with simple instructions about how to apply for benefits. Information on how to apply for programs should include both the link to BenefitsCal and a description of other ways to apply, such as applying in person at their respective CWD offices.

For CalWORKs, counties should review their public-facing websites on a regular basis to ensure that content is accurate, and contains plain language information about how to apply, and services and services available through CalWORKs.

For the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI), county websites must direct CAPI applicants to the county social services office to apply in person because the CAPI application is not available in BenefitsCal.

For Refugee Cash Assistance, and Trafficking and Crime Victims Protection Act (TCVAP), applicants who have minor children should be evaluated for CalWORKs first.  If they are ineligible for CalWORKs, or they do not have minor children, they should be evaluated for RCA and TCVAP.

Counties should notify CDSS as soon as their websites are updated, but no later then December 1, 2023.  (ACWDL, October 19, 2023.)

New NA Back 9 form

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued a revised version of the NA Back 9 form, which is the form on the back of every Notice of Action for a CDSS administered program about hearing rights and how to request a hearing.  The new NA Back 9 form includes the ability to request a preferred hearing modality, instructions on submitting hearing requests online or by email, and information about on-line hearings accounts.

Counties must begin using the new NA Back 9 form when automation in the CalSAWS computer system is complete.  All county generated notices must include the revised NA Back 9 after it is programmed into CalSAWS.  CDSS does not state when to expect the revised NA Back 9 to be programmed into CalSAWS or state a deadline for that programming.

Counties must include the local legal aid office(s) in the “Get Help” section of the new NA Back 9.

Agencies that use a form other than the NA Back 9 to request a hearing must have those forms reviewed and approved by the CDSS State Hearings Division.  (ACL 23-81, September 19, 2023.)

Waivers and flexibilities for application for RCA, ECA, TCVAP and RSS

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding waivers and flexibilities that apply to Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA), Entrant Cash Assistance (ECA), Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program (TCVAP), Refugee Support Services (RSS), and RSS set aside programs, such as Services to Older Refugees (SOR). The waiver and flexibility policies were issued in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) letter 23-01.

The waivers and flexibilities are effective beginning October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2023 when they will automatically expire, without further notice. Once expired, waivers and flexibilities will no longer apply unless further extended by CDSS.

The requirement for written declarations from applicants of their immigration status has been waived to provide states time to increase their capacity to serve the influx populations. The process for obtaining the declarations may be conducted over the phone. Verbal declarations must be supported by a written declaration as soon as possible. If unable to meet in-person with applicants, counties can confirm immigrant status eligibility through a database or other electronic means without first checking documentation. A eligibility determination may be made if the declaration shows the applicant has the status or category that confers eligibility for services. Applicants must provide proof of their immigration status within 90 days of making a written or verbal declaration.

The determination that an applicant is not eligible for TANF/CalWORKs prior to providing RCA benefits has been waived in order to allow recipients to receive benefits and services while waiting for approval for TANF/CalWORKs. This includes inability to apply for or receive a Social Security Number.  If, however, the recipient of RCA benefits is later approved for TANF/CalWORKs and given retroactive payments, they must pay back the funds given to them through RCA. Counties should inform applicants about this possibility of recoupment. Counties must ensure that RCA benefits are discontinued for clients who are approved for TANF/CalWORKs before their eligibility for RCA ends.

Recipients of RCA funds must enroll or be referred to employment services within 30 days after issuance. CWDs may use virtual means to provide employment services only when it is in the best interest of the recipients.  Virtual services should be complementary to in-person instruction.

The eligibility criteria (except immigrant status/category) for ECA for Cuban Haitian Entrants is the same as RCA.  Therefore, the ECA program receives the same flexibilities and waivers as the RCA program. Similarly, the eligibility criteria (except legal status) for TCVAP are the same as RCA and as such the same flexibilities and waivers apply.  (ACWDL, July 14, 2023.)

General overview of Refugee Cash Assistance and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program

California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued a general overview of the Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) program and Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program (TCVAP).

RCA is a federally-funded, 12-month cash assistance program available for non-citizen populations who are not otherwise eligible for cash aid. The state may operate a publicly-administered RCA program consistent with CalWORKs where program regulations relating to financial eligibility and payments apply, unless specifically superseded by RCA regulations.

RCA benefits are available to refugees, asylees, Cuban and Haitian Entrants, certified survivors of human trafficking, and Iraqi or Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders.

Although humanitarian parolees are generally not eligible for federal public benefits, including RCA, Afghan Humanitarian Parolees (AHP), Cuban and Haitian Entrant Humanitarian Parolees (CHP and HHP), and Ukrainian Humanitarian Parolees (UHP) are now eligible.

Cuban and Haitian Entrant Humanitarian Parolees (CHP and HHP) previously received benefits from the Entrant Cash Assistance program. They do not meet the requirements for other state or federal cash assistance programs. The term “Cuban or Haitian Entrant” refers to benefit eligibility rather than an immigration status. Cuban-Haitian Entrants may be eligible for certain federal public benefits, including Medicaid, Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance, Refugee Social Services, Social Security, SSI, SNAP, TANF, and Federal Student Aid.

Cuban or Haitian Entrants must meet all RCA eligibility criteria except for refugee status. The twelve month time eligibility starts the date of parole, and they retain eligibility for services even if their parole status expires prior to the end of the twelve month time eligibility.

Refugees awarded RCA benefits and services must participate in employment services (unless exempt or found to have good cause) and other social services designed to assist them in becoming self-sufficient. Recipients must provide proof of registration and participation in CDSS or other county-approved employment services. If CDSS or county approved programs are unavailable, recipients must be referred to EDD for registration.

Individuals must be given the opportunity to apply for cash assistance and counties must determine eligibility no more than 30 days from date of application, including an evaluation of immediate need. In order to avoid RCA overpayments, counties should contact resettlement agencies that may assist refugees to find out what assistance they are providing to the refugee and possible Matching Grant enrollment. Participants in Matching Grant programs are not eligible to receive RCA. Refugees who lose contact with their sponsor may be granted RCA until they have another sponsor.

RCA applicants are not required to disclose their Social Security Number, but counties may ask them to voluntarily do so.

For information regarding required immigration documents, verifying the entry and eligibility dates and other specific program information for the eligible arrivals, refer to ORR PL 16-01 and the corresponding ORR Documentation Guide. If the county is unable to confirm immigration status, a written declaration under penalty of perjury may permitted and benefits issued while using other methods, such as SAVE, to verify information.

TCVAP is a state-funded program that provides critical support, benefits, and services to non-citizen victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other serious crimes who are not eligible for federally-funded benefits and services. TCVAP is available for holders of a nonimmigrant T-Visa or U-Visa which allows them to remain in the U.S. while cooperating with law enforcement in investigations and/or prosecution of the perpetrator. TCVAP is also available for victims who have a Continued Presence (CP) designation. CP designation is for victims of a “severe form of trafficking in persons” who may be potential victims. CP allows victims to remain in the U.S. temporarily and find employment while the investigations and any civil actions against their traffickers are ongoing. TCVAP benefits and services are state-funded equivalents of RCA and Refugee Support Services (RSS).

Eligibility for TCVAP benefits and services is dependent on applicants establishing that they are a victim of a severe form of human trafficking, domestic violence, or other serious crimes. Applicants must make a sworn statement or have documentation showing that they are a victim of a severe form of human trafficking, and show they meet the income and resource limitations. In addition, applicants must be able to show they are taking steps to meet eligibility conditions for federal benefits such as applying for a T-Visa with USCIS.

TCVAP recipients must participate in employment services, unless exempt or found to have good cause, and other social services designed to assist them in becoming self-sufficient. Recipients must provide proof of registration and participation in CDSS or other county-approved employment services. If CDSS or county-approved programs are unavailable, recipients must be referred to EDD for registration.

TCVAP also provides benefits and services to noncitizen victims of domestic violence or other serious crimes. The U Visa is available to noncitizen victims of qualifying crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity; have information about the criminal activity; and were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. Applicants are eligible for TCVAP if they have filed an application for a U-Visa or have been granted a U-Visa and meet the income and resource limitations.

Eligibility for state-funded benefits and services are extended to domestic violence and other serious crimes victims who have filed an application for a U-Visa or have been granted a U-Visa, and meet the income and resource limitations.

TCVAP-eligible individuals qualify for TCVAP Cash Assistance, TCVAP CalWORKs, TCVAP Employment and Social Services, and California Food Assistance Program (CFAP). TCVAP benefits and services are equivalent to benefits available in the RCA program.  TCVAP cash assistance is available for up to 12 months for adults/families without children, and up to 60 months for families with children and begins the date of initial application for public benefits.

Counties must determine the eligibility of applicants for TCVAP Cash Assistance within 30 days and TCVAP CalWORKs within 45 days.

Employment and training requirements must be appropriate for the recipient. If a recipient is not authorized to work, or is technically or legally unable to participate, they are exempt and cannot be required to participate. Recipients should be provided with activities that will help them prepare for future employment such as English language training, job skills development, and job specific training.

TCVAP recipients are also exempt if physical or psychological trauma related to or arising from the victimization impedes their ability to comply. A physician’s written statement is required to show that the illness or injury is serious enough to temporarily prevent their participation in an education or training program.

RSS program is available in impacted counties that provides up to five years of employability and other services that address certain barriers to employment. The employability services are designed to enable refugees to obtain jobs within one year of becoming enrolled by providing social adjustment, culturally and linguistically appropriate services, and acquisition of skills needed to gain employment and become self-sufficient.

In refugee-impacted counties, TCVAP services are available for up to 5 years and one year in non-impacted counties following the date of application. TCVAP provides services equivalent to those under the RSS program. Current refugee-impacted counties include Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Stanislaus. These counties have designated County Refugee Coordinators that can be contacted with questions regarding RCA/Entrant RCA or RSS.

Non-impacted counties refer RCA recipients to approved CDSS-funded or county-approved employment programs. If no employment programs are available to the recipient, the county must refer them to EDD for registration using the EDD-approved forms and clearly indicating the recipient’s immigration and eligibility status. (ACIN I-36-23, July 10, 2023.)