CalFresh student eligibility

AB 1930 required CDSS to identify and verify participation in programs that are exempt from the rule that students are generally ineligible for CalFresh. CDSS has identified that students enrolled in either a Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program or Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) program are eligible for CalFresh. CDSS states it developing a form to verify enrollment in these programs and is continuing to work on identifying other educational programs that are exempt from the CalFresh student rules. ACL 15-70 (9/17/15).

Drought relief programs

CDSS has issued information about drought relief programs. One such program is the Drought Food Assistance Program that provides low income individuals and families with three to five days of food if they live in one of 29 designated counties and are unemployed or underemployed as a result of the drought. Households self-certify and agree that the food received is for personal home use only. The food boxes are distributed by local food banks. Another program is the Drought Water Assistance Program to assist low income households with residential water utility bills in 10 counties. CDSS also distributed a brochure about drought relief programs. ACIN I-62-15 (7/22/15).

CalWORKs and CalFresh verification requests

In response to a request submitted by Legal Services of Northern California in 2009, CDSS has reiterated that counties must assist clients in obtaining information, including assistance in obtaining a Social Security Number and card. CDSS stated that if an application is unable to obtain a Social Security Number and card within 30 days of application, CDSS must evaluate the circumstances for good cause. In addition, CDSS stated that counties cannot require a printout from the Social Security Administration as proof of an applicant’s Social Security Number

CDSS also stated that the CW2200 Request for Verification form is a mandated form and must be used by counties. The CW2200 lists information that an applicant must provide and lists types of proof that an applicant can submit to verify particular information. The CW2200 also states that clients can request help from the county in obtaining verification and that counties can pay costs of obtaining verification when necessary. ACIN I-24-15 (4/13/15) and I-24-15E (5/5/15)

Policy on fraud investigation requests for school records

CDSS has issued a policy about when a county welfare department or fraud investigator can request school records as part of an investigation. Welf. & Inst. Code Section 11484 requires state and local agencies to cooperate with welfare fraud investigations. However, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. Section 1232g, protects the privacy of student education records.

CDSS stated that because of FERPA, county welfare departments and welfare fraud investigators can only request what is defined as directory information from a school absent written consent from the student’s parents, a court order or a subpena. CDSS directed county welfare department staff and welfare fraud investigators to cease requesting information from schools other than directory information without parental consent, a court order or a subpoena. ACL 15-47 (6/17/15).

AB 1614 codifies existing practices and establishes new requirements for EBT program

CDSS has published instructions to local county welfare departments to assure compliance with recently enacted AB 1614 (2014). Its provisions codify a range of established practices in California’s EBT program, the default payment mechanism for CalFresh, CalWORKs, Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA), Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI), and several other state-administered cash programs, as well as some local county general assistance programs. AB 1614 also establishes a set of new requirements to make certain elements of the EBT program easier to use by recipients, including more ready access to the recipient’s EBT account information. Among the requirements now codified in AB 1614 are:

  • 24-hour recipient access by toll-free telephone so they can hear a listing of their last ten EBT transactions, with the option to request by telephone to have a copy of their transaction history detail for the past two months mailed to them;
  • Local county welfare offices must make a recipient’s EBT transaction history available to them within 10 business days of such a request, at no cost to the recipient;
  • The EBT system must establish the capacity to deliver “system outage alerts” to recipients, to inform them when the system is not functioning or is expected not to function for more than one hour between 6am and midnight during any 24-hour period;
  • Recipients must be informed by the county welfare department where they can use their EBT cards to withdraw benefits without incurring a fee, charge, or surcharge;
  • If a local county welfare department makes direct deposit available to its employees, then it must also make direct deposit available to its CalWORKs recipients.

Providing recipients with information about how to access their EBT benefits without surcharge fees is no small matter. CDSS confirms in this ACL that “almost two-thirds of ATM withdrawals made by EBT recipients incur surcharge fees.” (Federal law prohibits surcharge fees for CalFresh transactions.) CDSS also notes that recipients can access the MoneyPass website (or its mobile apps, linked there) to locate ATMs that provide surcharge-free transactions. ACL 15-39 (April 21, 2015).

Clarifications of Income Reporting Thresholds (IRT) in the CalFresh program

This is a must-read for CalFresh advocates. But to read a 10-page All County Letter like ACL 15-42 is to be reminded how complicated and therefore error-prone welfare programs have become, or at least continue to be, despite improvements such as broader categorical eligibility and simplified reporting requirements. Exhibit A here is an admittedly helpful chart on page two that breaks down six differing types of CalFresh-eligible households, each with differing rules for gross income limits and/or household compositions, with corresponding semi-annual reporting requirements (SAR), triggered by the applicable Income Reporting Thresholds (IRT). Or not.

This is an arena where client advocates need to be something akin to a tax lawyer. Perhaps it was a bit of CDSS humor that it chose to publish this on Tax Day? In any event, the rules here are quite technical and demand close reading to get them right. ACL 15-42 (April 15, 2015). Be sure also to review the “errata” related to these same issues in ACL 14-56E, laying out corresponding corrections to its earlier 2014 ACL about CalFresh modified categorical eligibility (MCE).