Definition of “income”

The bottom line: It’s all about counting real income actually available to the household.

In order to receive CalFresh benefits, most households must have less income than the gross and net income limits. [7 U.S.C. § 2014; 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(a); MPP § 63-503.321(a)(QR).] The CalFresh office first will review a household’s total gross monthly income to determine if it is below the gross income limit, which is 130% of the federal poverty level. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.9(a), 273.10(e)(2)(i)(B); MPP § 63-503.326(QR).] If it is, the CalFresh office then will look at the household’s net monthly income — i.e., income after it subtracts some of the household’s expenses — to decide how much in CalFresh benefits the household will get. The household’s net income must be below 100% of the federal poverty level. [7 C.F.R. § 273.9(a)(2); MPP §63-503.322(a)(QR).]

The CalFresh office will want to know about all income that each person in the CalFresh household gets in the so-called “data month” (i.e., the second month of the quarter) and expects to get in the next quarter. (For a detailed explanation of how this works, see the section about semi-annual reporting.) The CalFresh household must provide this information. [MPP § 63-505.31 (QR).] This does not mean that the office will count all money that the household gets as income. [7 U.S.C. § 2014(d); 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(c); MPP §§ 63-502.12 and 63-502.2.]

There are situations where some income is only partially exempt, and the remainder counted. An example of this would be educational “financial aid,” some of which is entirely excluded and some of which is included as “unearned income” to the extent it is not used for educational expenses. [MPP § 63-502.2(e).] The CalFresh office should explain these rules. Another example would be child support paid directly to the household, which is treated as “unearned income” (but not so if assigned to the state, as it is for CalWORKs families). 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(b)(5)(ii). This includes the so-called “$50 pass through” given to CalWORKs families as an incentive to promote cooperation in paying child support. [MPP § 63-502.122.]

The CalFresh office also will want to know what income comes from working — so-called “earned income” — and what other “unearned income” the household gets for some other reason. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.9(b)(1) and (2); MPP § 63-502.112.] The CalFresh office deducts more expenses from earned income than it does from unearned income when it figures how many CalFresh benefits to give the households.

A household member who is out of the home and living with a military unit is not considered part of the CalFresh household. Any income or resources the military member actually provides to the household. however, is counted as income to the household. [MPP § 63-503.45.] More specifically, some military pay, such as combat pay, is not counted. [See, SNAP program letter regarding Extension of Food Stamp Exclusion (March 1, 2007); see also, ACL 05-04 (exclusion of income due to military deployment).] Many other payments, however, are treated as income. Typical payments treated as income are the “Family Self-Sufficiency Allowance” (FSSA), and the basic housing allowance for off-base housing. [See ACIN I-79-03EII for California state policy based on 7 CFR § 273.9(vii).]

IHSS wages are considered income for purposes of CalFresh.  [ACIN I-34-17.]  CDSS has taken the position that IHSS wages are not excluded as money received for care and maintenance of the third party who is not a household member because it is considered earned income, and the Internal Revenue Service rules excluding IHSS as a difficulty of care payment do not apply to CalFresh.  [Id.]

Benefits from the COVID-19 unemployment insurance programs, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, count as income for CalFresh.  [ACWDL, April 21, 2020.]

Credit card company gift cards that are provided regularly and can be reasonably anticipated should be counted as income. [FNS Revised Treatment of Gift Cards in Determining SNAP.]

Earmarked income, that is, income received by the CalFresh applicant or recipient that is designated for a particular purpose, counts as income for CalFresh unless its source is otherwise excluded.  (ACIN I-01-24.) Earmarked income that is received only once, or that is so infrequent that it cannot be reasonably anticipated does not court for CalFresh purposes. [Id.]