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. Welfare and Institutions 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.

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).

Updated County instructions about verification of Social Security numbers and income

In July 2014, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced the availability of SSA benefit verification letters and other SSA verification processes, via its My Social Security site. CDSS has now issued updated instructions (along with a few pointed reminders) to counties about the changes in the SSA processes for verification of Social Security account information, and how they relate to largely unchanged CDSS requirements for a client’s submission of Social Security numbers and income information. The specifics for verification of Social Security account information vary somewhat in the CalWORKs, Medi-Cal and and CalFresh programs, highlighted here. There is language here that is horatory but still helpful to the client’s cause, where CDSS reminds counties that “the CWD shall make every effort to assist the individual in obtaining the documents necessary to submit a complete application for a SSN card” and “strongly recommends that counties ensure that the forms they are using are adequate in providing all necessary information to clients.” ACIN I-24-15 (April 13, 2015).

Prior felony drug conviction no longer precludes CalFresh and CalWORKs eligibility

It took nearly two decades for California to lift the statutory prohibition preventing individuals with prior drug felony convictions from qualifying for CalFresh or CalWORKs benefits. But the recent enactment of AB 1468 (2014) did just that. Effective April 1, 2015, no person can be excluded from an assistance unit or otherwise be denied CalFresh or CalWORKs benefits because of a prior felony drug conviction. Two important All County Letters have been issued addressing this change: All County Letter No. 14-100 sets out in detail the rule changes, key implementation dates, applicable forms, as well as what is expected of local county welfare offices to facilitate eligibility and receipt of benefits for individuals previously excluded. There is also the related All County Letter No. 14-92 explaining specific changes made to the CalFresh application form to conform to AB 1468. ACL 14-100 (December 19, 2014); ACL 14-92 (December 22, 2014).

USDA publishes final guidance on Title VI prohibition against discrimination of persons with limited English proficiency

The Office of Civil Rights within the USDA has issued detailed final guidance, including its responses to submitted comments, clarifying the obligations of entities receiving federal financial assistance from USDA (e,g,, the California Department of Social Services, which administers the SNAP/CalFresh program). If you work on language access issues affecting the CalFresh population, this is a must-read, to better understand USDA’s expectations of state agencies “in meeting their existing obligations to provide meaningful access for LEP persons.” 79 Federal Register 70771- 70784.