Common verification problems

Difficulties in obtaining verification

The household is primarily responsible for providing documentary evidence to support statements made on the application. It is also responsible for resolving any questionable information. The county is responsible for obtaining information from acceptable collateral contacts. The county must inform the applicant that it will help the person get the verification. [MPP §§ 63-300.37; 63-300.5(i)] This includes payment of a fee related to its production. [See MPP § 40-126.33, which applies to county responsibilities to assist with applications, generally.] The county should provide samples of what types of verification are acceptable.  The county is required to use the CW 2200 verification form or a substitute approved by CDSS.  [ACL 14-26.]

The household must be given at least 10 days from the date of the request to provide required verification. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f).]

For applications, California has been granted a waiver by the federal government that allows counties to choose to deny CalFresh applications for failure to submit requested verification within 10 days of the written request even if 30 days have not passed since the application date.  [ACL 19-57.]  The waiver is in effect until April 30, 2024.  [Id.]  42 counties have chosen to implement this waiver.  [Id.]

Counties must meet several conditions to deny an application for failure to submit requested verification within 10 days of the written request even if 30 days have not passed since the application date including the county completed an interview with the applicant, inform applicants of the 10 day standard both verbally and in writing, the county must assist the applicant in obtaining verification, counties must act on verification submitted within 60 days of the application date without a new application and grant benefits from the date verification is submitted, and if verification is submitted within 30 days of the application date, the county must reopen the application and grant benefits from the original application date. [Id.]

In addition, the notice of denial must state the reason for the denial and inform of the right to submit verification within 30 days of the date of application, and if eligible receive benefits from the application date. [Id.]

Households are considered uncooperative with verification only if they refuse to verify. [MPP § 63-505.12.] CalFresh can deny benefits for a failure to cooperate. However, applicants cannot be denied CalFresh benefits just because they are unable to give the CalFresh office the documentation it needs. A household has not refused to cooperate just because it unsuccessfully attempts to cooperate. Households must be advised that they can ask the county for help. Households should alert the county that they need help, to prevent adverse action. Otherwise counties will treat the failure to verify as a refusal to verify.

The obligation to be cooperative only applies to members of the CalFresh household. The county cannot deny benefits because a collateral contact or other third party failed to cooperate. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(d)(1).] However, “excluded” household members, as defined in MPP § 63-402.22, are not considered outside of the household. [MPP § 63-301.311.]

Verifying questionable information

The CalFresh office will ask the applicant to verify any information it has doubts about. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(2), (f)(4)(iv); MPP § 63-300.5(g).] The State should establish guidelines for what constitutes questionable information. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(2)(i).] These requests and guidelines must not discriminate based on race, religion, ethnic background, or national origin. [Id.]

Applicants should be ready to verify as many facts about the household as they can. If a CalFresh worker asks for more information, the applicant should ask the worker to write down what information the county needs. The CalFresh office should give households a written list of the things they must do to help with verification. [7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(3).]

In California, information is questionable if the information on the application is:

  • Inconsistent with statements made by the applicant;
  • Inconsistent with other information in the application or previous applications; or
  • Inconsistent with information received by the county welfare department.

[MPP § 63-300.5(g); ACIN I-01-24 at p.3.]

Reported income may be questionable if it equals zero or if it is less than reported expenses; however, questionable information cannot be the sole reason for a denial of benefits. [Id.] When determining if information is questionable, the county should base the decision on the household’s individual circumstances. [Id.]

Common questionable information

The Calfresh regulations specify how questionable information about household composition, citizenship, work registration and shared expenses are handled.[MPP §§ 63-300.5(g)(1-4).]

Household composition: the eligibility caseworker may verify situations where an individual is claiming to be a separate CalFresh household. [MPP § 63-300.5(g)(1).] For elderly/disabled persons, this type of verification should be conducted in accordance with MPP § 63-300.5(e)(9)(F).

Citizenship: the household will be asked to provide acceptable verification to show U.S. citizenship status. [MPP § 63-300.5(g)(2)(A).] Acceptable verification includes birth certificates, religious records, certificates of citizenship or naturalization provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or U.S. passports. [Id.] Participation in CalWORKs will also be considered acceptable verification if verification of citizenship was obtained for that member. [Id.] If the listed forms of verification are unavailable, the county must accept a signed statement from a U.S. citizen declaring, under penalty of perjury, that the member in question is a U.S. citizen. [Id.]

Any household member whose citizenship is in question will be ineligible to participate until proof of U.S. citizenship is obtained. [MPP § 63-300.5(g)(2)(B).]

Work registration: the Calfresh Program requires all non-exempt participants to register for work when applying for benefits. [MPP § 63-407.1.] CalWORKs participants and people receiving unemployment benefits are some of the groups exempt from the work registration requirement. [MPP § 63-407.21(c).] Work registration exemptions may be subject to verification if deemed questionable.

If a work requirement exemption due to CalWORKs is questionable, the county is responsible for verifying participation in the CalWORKs work program. [MPP § 63-300.5(g)(3)(A).] The county is also responsible for verifying questionable information for unemployment benefit recipients and applicants. In addition to verifying receiving or applying for benefits, the county will also verify that the CalFresh participant is registered to work with the Employment Development Department (EDD). [MPP § 63-300.5(g)(3)(B).]

Work registration exemptions also exist for applicants who voluntarily reduce work effort or quit for good cause. (see MPP § 63-408.4 for what constitutes good cause.) For good cause exemptions, the county will request verification when questionable information exists. It is the responsibility of the household to provide good cause verification. [MPP § 63-300.5(g)(3)(C).]

Acceptable sources of verification include, but are not limited to:

  • the previous employer,
  • employee associations,
  • union representative,
  • grievance committees or organizations.

[MPP § 63-300.5(g)(3)(C)(1).]

If it is difficult or impossible to obtain documentary verification in a timely manner, the county should offer assistance to obtain verification. [Id.] Whenever documentary verification is unavailable, the county should use an acceptable collateral contact provided by the household. The county is responsible for obtaining verification from the collateral contact. If neither the household nor the county are able to obtain the requested verification, the household should not be denied access to the program. [MPP § 63-300.5(g)(3)(C)(2).]

Shared expenses: multiple households existing in the same house can share utility expenses. However, if the county finds a household’s statement about sharing such expenses questionable, the deduction based on the Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) will not be factored into the benefits calculation until the “sharing relationship” can be verified. [MPP § 63-300.5(g)(4).]

Failure v. Refusal to Cooperate: An individual cannot be denied SNAP benefits because the he failed to cooperate. [See, e.g., Atkinson v. Ledbetter, 360 S.E.2d 66, 67 (Ga. App. 1987).] An individual can be denied benefits if the individual refused to cooperate. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(d)(1); MPP § 63-505.1.] An applicant who relies on what a caseworker said does not constitute someone “refusing” to cooperate. [See, e.g., Chambers v. Commonwealth, Dep’t of Pub. Welfare, 466 A.2d 281, 282 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1983).] Lacking information is not refusing to cooperate. [See Atkinson, 360 S.E.2d 66, 67; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(d)(1).]

The CalFresh office must give at least ten days for an applicant to get requested information. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(1)(i)(C); MPP § 63-301.411(b).] If the applicant does not obtain the requested verification in time, the CalFresh office can take more than 30 days to determine eligibility for benefits. (See the section about the failure of the CalFresh office to act on an application within 30 days for more.)

Households should have the opportunity to explain and fix discrepancies in the application process before eligibility is determined. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(4)(iv).] It is important that the CalFresh case worker not assume that the individual is dishonest. [See Bacon v. Toia, 648 F.2d 801, 809 (2d Cir. 1981), aff’d, 457 U.S. 132 (1982); Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160, 177 (1941) (“poverty and immorality are not synonymous”).]

Questions about immigration status

The CalFresh office does not — and should not — check information about ineligible immigrant household members who are not applying for CalFresh benefits for themselves. The CalFresh office should not ask about the immigration status of people who live with the applicant but who are not applying for CalFresh benefits along with the applicant. There is no requirement to report any person to the USCIS unless the CalFresh agency has made a determination that an individual in a CalFresh benefits household is unlawfully present in the United States [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(b)(2), MPP § 63-405.8], evidence of which would be the issuance by USCIS of a final order of removal (deportation) against that individual.

The threshold in the regulation is not met where, for example, a parent applies for an eligible child and refuses or is unable to document the parent’s own status. The regulations provide that “when a person indicates inability or unwillingness to provide documentation of alien status, that person should be classified as an ineligible alien.” In such cases the state agency will not continue efforts to obtain that documentation. [7 C.F.R. § 273.4(b)(2); MPP § 63-405.8; see Doe v. Miller, 573 F.Supp. 461, 466-67 (N.D. Ill. 1983].