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).

Computation of CalWORKs and CalFresh overpayments and overissuances

CDSS has changed its policy regarding computation of CalWORKs overpayments and CalFresh overissuances. The amount of an overpayment or overissuance is determined by recreating the circumstances of the case and recalculating the grant based on all of the income that the client was required to report. Previously, any decreases in income during the payment period that were not reported were not considered in the determining the amount of the overpayment or overissuance.

CDSS’ new policy is that decreases in income that would have increased the grant amount must be considered in determining the amount of the overpayment or overissuance. The result of this change is that the amount of overpayments and overissuances based on unreported income must be adjusted based on any unreported decreased in income during the reporting period.  ACL 15-95 (12/1/15).

Residency for CalFresh

CDSS has issued guidance on determining residency for purposes of CalFresh eligibility. CDSS states that counties cannot have a durational residency requirement, cannot require a fixed mailing address, and cannot require intent to permanently reside in the county as conditions of CalFresh eligibility.   Temporary absence from a county when there is an intent to return should not affect CalFresh eligibility or require an inter-county transfer.

“Whereabouts unknown” is not a permissible reason to terminate CalFresh benefits. If mail is returned as undeliverable, counties should send a request for information form to the last known address, if that form is not returned within 10 days, the county can terminate benefits.

Semi-annual reporting households are only required to report address changes when submitting a semi-annual report or at annual recertification. Change reporting households must report address changes within 10 days.

An overissuance cannot be established solely because a client accesses benefits in another county or state or is temporarily located in another county or state.  ACL 15-91 (11/3/15).

End of CalFresh change reporting

Currently, migrant and seasonal worker households, homeless household and households in which all adults are elderly or disabled are subject to change reporting, that is reporting all changes in household income or composition within 10 days. SB 79 Sections 54 and 55 require the elimination of change reporting and converting all households to semi-annual reporting by January 2017.

CDSS has issused instructions about transitioning these households to semi-annual reporting. CDSS states that counties that use the CalWIN computer system will convert on June 1, 2016 and counties that use the C-IV and LEADER computer systems will convert on July 1, 2016. CDSS will sent information notices to all effected households six months and three months before the change. In addition, CDSS directed counties to find good cause for late submission of a semi-annual report for twelve months after the change to semi-annual reporting occurs if the report is submitted in the first month after it is due.  ACL 15-90 (10/30/15).