“States usually only meet the federal rates through “gimmicks,” said Michael Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Some were able to lower their targets by reducing their welfare rolls. California boosted its rate by giving many working food assistance recipients an additional $10 a month out of its welfare funds.”
The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) issued new guidance to counties intended to help CalWORKs families maintain income during the COVID crisis. With most welfare offices closed to the public and staff working from home, many counties are short staffed. At the same time, counties are facing unprecedented requests for assistance and are prioritizing the processing of new applications for assistance.
The CDSS guidance gives counties some breathing room in how they administer the welfare-to work program, and also ensures CalWORKs families do not suffer a loss of grant income due to the inability to meet welfare-to-work requirements. Additionally, the guidance clarifies for counties and community colleges that they are to continue paying wages for subsidized employment and for work study while families shelter at home.
Counties are being instructed that CalWORKs recipients who cannot complete their welfare-to-work assignments due to COVID-19 should be granted good cause for not participating. Good cause means that the recipient is excused from performing work activities and ensures that the family will not receive a sanction for failing to meet work requirements. This is important because a sanction reduces the amount of the grant a family receives, making it harder to pay bills. Counties are also allowed to provide “blanket” good cause to all recipients required to do welfare-to-work. We urge counties to adopt this policy because it is both humane and realistic given the order from the Governor to shelter-in-place.
The CDSS guidance goes a step further and instructs counties to begin the “cure” process for recipients who are already sanctioned or who were previously not in compliance with work requirements but not yet sanctioned. Curing means the recipient agrees to meet the work requirement, usually by performing the activity they failed to perform, by participating in a different activity than before. While counties are not authorized to provide “blanket” cures, counties are permitted to provide cure plans in which good cause is provided as the cure plan. Once this is agreed to by the recipient, the grant is to be restored to the full amount. Because many recipients have no way to sign the cure plan electronically, CDSS is allowing counties to attest to the agreement of the recipient as an alternative. In short, this procedure will restore CalWORKs grants to their full value for sanctioned households. As many as 40,000 households could be impacted by this.
Finally, the CDSS guidance clarifies that recipients who were receiving wages through county funded subsidized employment or through community college provided work study may continue to be paid wages even if the recipient can no longer work due to COVID-19. In the case of work study, colleges are permitted to pay back wages to the date when the campus closed. This is important since many CalWORKs families depend on income from employment to pay rent and provide food for their families.
We want to acknowledge the work of CDSS, which continues to work with advocates and counties in a spirit of cooperation to help mitigate harm caused by the COVID pandemic. There will be more updates as the state begins the process of implementing provisions in the federal stimulus package.