County and State operational responsibilities

County operations, complaint processes and chain of command

The county offices take applications for CalFresh benefits, decide if people qualify for CalFresh benefits and make sure participants meet CalFresh program requirements. Most of these tasks in the local offices are done by “case workers” or “eligibility workers.” These workers should be properly trained. [7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(6)(B).] The workers are in charge of the cases or files of people applying for or getting CalFresh benefits.

The CalFresh office must keep records, including papers the household gives them, for at least three years. [7 C.F.R. § 272.1(f).] Most counties are now scanning in paper documents and the entire case file may be digital. Workers and other officials in the CalFresh office must follow federal and state laws and regulations. Local officials may not disregard official interpretations of the state CalFresh agency’s regulations.

Each worker usually will work on the cases of many households. All workers have supervisors. If a CalFresh household does not like something a worker has done, or if the household cannot reach its worker, talking to a supervisor might help. The household should not put off asking for a fair hearing while trying to talk to a supervisor. Supervisors have higher supervisors over them. Sometimes people need to talk to higher supervisors if their workers’ supervisors will not help. It is usually best to talk to each person in the chain of command, in order. In other words, a CalFresh household usually should try to talk with its worker, then the worker’s supervisor, then the supervisor’s supervisor, and so on, rather than calling a high official right away. The household can also complain to the state CalFresh agency or to Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). (See the sections of this Guide about notices and fair hearings for related information.)

Protection of applicant and recipient privacy

State public assistance agencies are required by federal law and regulations to safeguard personal information against unauthorized use or disclosure. The California state law on confidentiality in welfare programs is Welf. & Inst. Code § 10850. Information to be safeguarded includes individuals’ “names, addresses, amount of assistance, social or economic conditions, wages, agency evaluations, and medical data.” In practice, this means the local CalFresh office must respect the privacy of all household members. Workers and other personnel in a local office must not repeat to other people things the household members may tell CalFresh workers, except to those people who help run the CalFresh program or enforce laws about CalFresh benefits or other public benefit programs. [7 C.F.R. § 272.1(c); Manual of Policies and Procedures (MPP) § 19-001 et seq..]

Access to federal and state rules and regulations

The local office should have a copy of the federal SNAP federal rules and federal regulations and the MPP CalFresh state regulations. The CalFresh household has a right to see the state manual or handbook at any CalFresh office. [MPP § 63-201.41; 7 C.F.R. § 272.1(d)(1).] The household also has a right to see a copy of federal SNAP rules and other information about how the CalFresh state program should be run. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) main office and at any regional office of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) must make copies of these rules available upon request. [7 C.F.R. § 272.1(d)(1).] County law libraries, law school libraries and legal services offices may also have copies of federal and state regulations or state CalFresh manuals.

The Manual of Policies and Procedures is supposed to follow federal regulations, but sometimes it does not. Should the MPP or any other state policy or rule deny households their rights under the federal statutes or federal regulations, households can ask the CDSS to change the manual or rule to comply with the law. If CDSS will not do so, households working with their legal advocates should decide what to do. In some cases, where recipients and their advocates are unable to persuade the CalFresh offices to respect their rights, they can protect their rights by complaining to the U.S. Department of Agriculture or by filing law suits in court. Contact your local legal aid program for further help with these types of problems.

Making complaints to the Food and Nutrition Service

The part of the USDA in charge of the SNAP program is the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). CalFresh applicants and recipients have a right to complain about the way CDSS or the local county welfare department runs the CalFresh program. As explained above, applicants and recipients can complain to the manager of the local county welfare department, to the CDSS or to the regional FNS office or one of its field offices. The CDSS and the FNS regional office must look into complaints that they receive. [7 C.F.R. §§ 271.6, 272.6(c), (d); MPP § 63-106.]

If a household thinks it did not get CalFresh benefits to which it is entitled, it should request a fair hearing. (For more information about the hearing process, see the sections of this guide about notices and hearings.) Although FNS does take complaints, FNS does not hold hearings. A CalFresh household cannot ask for a hearing by writing or calling FNS. If a household has questions or complaints, it may want to talk to a legal aid office, a local anti-hunger coalition or a community action agency.

State agency responsibilities

Once a state agency agrees to run the program, it must make sure that the program is run according to federal rules. It must make sure that people can get SNAP benefits in every part of the state. All areas within California must have a CalFresh program. The rules must apply uniformly throughout the state unless the USDA has approved a specific waiver. Often local counties are slow to implement new regulations. If the county does not start following a new regulation on time, consider ways to make the office follow the law, described above.