Exemptions from work requirements

What are the exemptions?

All those applying for CalFresh benefits must register for work when they apply for CalFresh benefits unless they are exempt. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1); MPP § 63-407.21.] CalFresh applicants and recipients are exempt if they fit one of the following:

  • Under 16 years old. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(i); MPP § 63-407.21(a).]
  • 16 or 17 years old and not the head of the household. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(i); MPP § 63-407.21(a)(1).]
  • 16 or 17 years old and attending school or an employment training program at least half-time. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(i); MPP § 63-407.21(a)(1).]
  • Over age 59. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(i); MPP § 63-407.21(a).]
  • Physically or mentally “unfit” for employment as defined by the state agency; but the state may not define unfitness less restrictively than it does for its TANF [CalWORKs] program. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(ii)(b); MPP § 63-407.21(b).]  CDSS defines physically or mentally unfit as “If mental or physical unfitness is claimed and the unfitness is not evident to the CWD, verification shall be require. Appropriate verification may consist of receipt of temporary or permanent disability benefits issued by governmental or private sources, or of a statement from a physician or
    licensed or certified psychologist.”  [MPP § 63-407.21(b).]
  • Working at least 30 hours per week (including the self-employed). [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(vii); MPP § 63-407.21(g).]
  • Earning wages at a job at least equal to the federal minimum wage multiplied by 30 hours (including the self-employed). [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(vii); MPP § 63-407.21(g).]
  • A migrant or seasonal farm worker under contract to begin work within the next 30 days who will work 30 hours or earn the equivalent wage (see above). [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(vii); MPP § 63-407.21.(g).]
  • Responsible for caring for a child under six or an incapacitated person. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(iv); MPP § 63-407.21(d).]
  • Subject to TANF [CalWORKs] work program or other work requirement under Title IV of the Social Security Act. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(iii); MPP § 63-407.21(c).]
  • Regular participant in a drug addiction or alcoholic treatment and rehabilitation program. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(vi); MPP § 63-407.21(f).]
  • Receiving unemployment insurance benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(v); MPP § 63-407.21.(e).]
  • Applying for unemployment and registered for work through the California Employment Development Department (EDD). [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(v); MPP § 63-407.21(e).]
  • A student enrolled at least half-time in any school, training program or college. [See the sections of this Guide about special rules providing exceptions for some students exceptions for some students and others in unusual situations.]

[7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(viii); MPP § 63-407.21(h); ACL 20-10.]

Note that other categories of recipients are deferred from work requirements, meaning that they must register but are not required to participate.

Definition of “medically unfit”

The term “medically unfit” in the CalFresh program is not the same strict standard used for disability programs like Social Security disability or SSI. [See, e.g., Hoss v. Adult and Family Services Division, 719 P.2d 1316 (Or. App. 1986).]

The fact that someone can do some things in life does not necessarily mean that the person can work. [See, e.g., Akel v. New Mexico Human Services Department, 749 P.2d 1120 (N.M.App. 1987) (working in a sheltered environment).] The CalFresh office should consider a person’s physical condition in relation to the relevant factors, such as age, education, training and experience. [See, e.g., Archuleta v. Bowen, 655 F. Supp. 1196 (D.Wy. 1987).]

The condition can be temporary or permanent. The CalFresh office may ask someone for some proof that he cannot work due to a mental or physical condition. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(1)(ii); MPP § 63-407.21(b).] Proof can include such things as a letter from a medical professional, a finding of “unemployable” for the county’s General Assistance (GA) program, medical records, or similar items. If someone is on any kind of private or government disability program, that award letter should also be enough to prove the person is exempt from work registration. [MPP § 63-407.21(b).]

Percentage exemptions

Federal law gives each state a number of exemptions from the ABAWD rules equal to 12 percent of the state’s annual caseload. [ACL 19-60.]  Previously exemptions could equal 15 percent of the state’s annual caseload, but that amount was reduced to 12 percent in the 2018 Farm Bill.  Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) § 4005(b)(3)(E).]  These percentage exceptions allow counties to extend CalFresh eligibility to ABAWDs who would otherwise be ineligible. [Id.] Each percentage exception gives one full month of eligibility to one individual subject to the ABAWD time limit. [Id.] In general, CFAP recipients are treated the same as individual receiving CalFresh, including application of the ABAWD rules.  [Id.]

In addition, new federal rules set to become effective on April 1, 2020 limit the number of unused discretionary exemptions that a state can carry over to the next year to 12% of covered individuals.  [84 Fed. Reg 66782, 66803.]

Determining exemptions

California has a three step process before applying a percentage exemption. [Id.] First, counties must screen for an exemption for the ABAWD time limit at application, period report and recertification using information in the case record and individualized assessments. [Id.] Second, counties should engage ABAWDs to support them in finding additional work and/or participating in qualifying work activities, including referral to local workforce partners, volunteer activities or other training or education programs. [Id.} Third, the county can provide a percentage exemption if the individual meets additional criteria as determined by the county. [Id.]

Loss of a work exemption

When recipients lose exemption status, they must register for work with the county welfare department. They may be required to register when they are required to report a change in circumstance, at their next recertification or within 10 calendar days from the date they lose their eligibility for a work program. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(b)(2)(i); MPP § 63-407.221-223.]