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).