Benefits and same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships

The California Department of Social Services has issued policies about how same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships are treated for purposes of various programs.  For CalWORKs, same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners who have adopted the children are treated as members of the assistance unit who are subject to welfare-to-work requirements.  These households are considered two parent households for purposes of welfare-to-work requirements.  Same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners who have not adopted the children are considered step-parents, meaning they can be considered part of the assistance unit and participate in welfare-to-work but are not required to do so.

For purposes of eligibility for child care, same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners who have adopted the children are treated as members of the assistance unit, meaning the same-sex spouse or registered domestic partner can be considered an able and available parents who can provide child care.  Same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners who have not adopted the children are considered optional step-parents and are not considered for purposes of eligibility for child care.

For purposes of CalFresh, any group of persons who customarily purchase and prepare meals together are considered a household.   Same-sex spouses are considered spouses and must be included in the CalFresh household.  However, registered domestic partners are not considered spouses and are not automatically included in the household.  Registered domestic partners who are part of the CalWORKs assistance unit or customarily purchase and prepare meals with the family must be included in the CalFresh household.

Refugee Cash Assistance has the same requirements as CalWORKs.  Registered domestic partners have the same status as married couples for purposes of eligibility for Refugee Cash Assistance.  ACL 16-13 (March 28, 2016).

CalFresh Expedited Service

The California Department of Social Services issued this letter to clarify and transmit current state and federal rules about CalFresh Expedited Service (ES). Counties must screen all CalFresh applications for ES. Applicants have the right to file a CalFresh application on the day they contact the county during business hours. The application is considered complete if it contains the applicant’s name, address and signature.  Counties cannot refuse or deter submission of a CalFresh application during normal business hours.

Counties must verbally inform each CalFresh applicant of ES availability.  ES information must be added to at or near the beginning of each online CalFresh application.  The CalFresh application asks ES screening questions but county review for ES cannot be limited to the screening questions on the application.

Applicants are eligible for ES if:

  1. Household has both less than $150 in gross monthly income and less than $100 liquid resources
  2. Household combined gross monthly income and resources is less than household’s monthly rent or mortgage and utilities.
  3. Migrant or seasonal farmworker who is destitute and has less than $100 resources.
  4. Household is destitute, meaning the household’s only income was received before the application date and has terminated, the household has income from a new source but no more than $25 will be received within 10 calendar days of the application, or a combination of those.

Counties are not required to notify applicants that ES has been denied. However, counties must offer an agency conference for ES denials.  Counties must provide information about the agency conference at the same time the household is informed of ES.

ES must be granted within 3 business days of the application, which means EBT cards must be available within the 3 business day timeframe.  The only verification required for ES is identity, which can be verified using MEDS or any other information known to the county including a prior application. If identity cannot be verified, the county can accept attestation of identity from a collateral contact who confirms the applicant’s identity. All other verification is postponed until processing of the application, which is up to 30 days.  If ES eligibility is discovered at a subsequent interview or any later time during the application process, the 3 business day ES time clock begins when the county discovered ES entitlement.

If a household missed their ES interview, the county will send a notice to the applicant to reschedule the interview prior to 30 days after application.  Counties should route the application for normal processing if the applicant misses the ES interview. If the applicant does not contact the county to reschedule the interview within 30 days, the application is denied.

Based on input from a workgroup, CDSS has recommendations for ES, including that the county assign a lobby greeter, the county attach a half-sheet to the application explaining ES, and the county post signs in welfare department lobbies about ES.  ACL 16-14 (February 29, 2016).

Extension of ABAWD time limit waiver

The federal government has granted California’s request for an extension of its waiver of the Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependant Children (ABAWD) time limit. The ABAWD rule limits receipt of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (CalFresh in California) by non-disabled adults without children to three months every three years unless they are meeting certain work requirements. Areas, including entire states, can request waiver of the ABAWD rule if their average unemployment rate is 20 percent over the national average for a recent 36 month period. California’s ABAWD waiver is now extended until December 31, 2017.

The result of the waiver is that there continues to be no time limit for receiving CalFresh benefits in California and participation on CalFresh Employment and Training Program is voluntary until January 1, 2018. ACIN I-11-16 (February 2, 2016).

CalWORKs and CalFresh file access rules

CDSS has issued instructions about access to county welfare department case files for CalWORKs, CalFresh, Trafficking and Crime Victim’s Assistance Program and Refugee Cash Assistance. The general rule is the client may inspect non-privileged, non-confidential documents in their case record, including the entire case narrative. Clients are not required to state why they want to inspect their case file. The only questions the county can ask are questions necessary to assist in identifying the information the client wants. The county cannot require a Public Records Act request for the client to see their case file.

Clients must be able to access their case file regardless of whether the file is maintained in paper or electronically, including documents stored separately from the county consortia automated systems. Documents can be provided by hard copy, read only access to systems with a hard copy of any requested documents, or by a pdf file. The county must provide if the client so requests.

If the client’s request includes documents that the county deems to be privileged or confidential, the county should redact the privileged or confidential information and provide the redacted documents to the client. If the documents cannot be redacted, the entire document can be withheld. Examples of potentially privileged or confidential information include whereabouts of an absent parent, child protective services information, and information about minor’s consent services. Medical records are also privileged, but as the holder of the privilege clients have access to their own medical records that are in the case file. The identity of an informant is also privileged, but must be disclosed if the informant will testify at a hearing.

If a document is redacted or withheld pursuant to a claim of privilege or confidentiality, the county must use the Response to Request to Inspect Case Record form to inform the client that documents are being withheld and why. CDSS recommends that counties establish an informal dispute resolution process to resolve these disputes. Case file access disputes can also be raised during administrative hearings.

For an administrative hearing, the county must allow a claimant to examine their case record during normal business hours. The county must provide the claimant with any and all information that can assist the claimant in preparing for the hearing. The county cannot charge for copies of CalFresh documents. For CalWORKs documents, the county can copy requested documents without charge or for a charge related to the cost of copying.

Claimants are entitled to access to fraud investigation files when the county has taken an administrative action based on the fraud investigation and the claimant has requested a hearing to challenge that action. The claimant can examine relevant, non-privileged, non-confidential documents from the fraud investigation file that the county used in making its decision to take the administrative action that is the subject of the hearing. ACL 16-02 (January 20, 2016).

CalWORKs, CalFresh and EITC

CDSS issued guidance about treatment of federal and state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for purposes of eligibility for CalWORKs and CalFresh. For both programs, both federal and state EITC is permanently excluded as income and does not count as a resource for 12 months. CDSS strongly encourages counties to notify recipients.

CDSS also describes eligbility for both federal EITC and the new California EITC that begins for the 2015 tax year. ACL 15-87 (11/2/15).

CalFresh application denials before 30th day

Under a federal waiver, California can deny CalFresh applications 10 days after the date of a request for verification if the applicant does not provide the requested information. This letter states that a welfare department cannot deny a CalFresh application for failure to provide verification within 10 days of a request unless an interview is completed. In addition, the denial cannot be effective until 30 days after the application is filed.

This letter also reminds counties: 1) they must schedule interviews for all CalFresh applicants who are not interviewed on the day they submit their application, 2) cannot deny an application prior to the 30th day after application if the household misses their first scheduled interview, 3) they must send a denial notice on the 30th day following the date of the application if the household misses a scheduled interview and does not tell the county they want to pursue the application, and 4) counties must give at least 10 days for applicants to provide missing verification.  ACL 15-93 (11/20/15).