Getting and filling out an application form

How and where to get a CalFresh application

The CalFresh process begins with an application . You can apply in person, online or by sending an application in the mail. If you need expedited (emergency) CalFresh benefits, applying in person at the local office is best. There are a number of ways to get an application in California including:

  • Call the state-wide CalFresh hotline: The toll free phone number is (877) 847-3663. The hotline currently accepts calls in English and Spanish. If applicants enter their zip code, they can hear specific county application information. An operator is available during business hours for application requests.
  • Contact the county directly: Applicants can find the contact information for their county in the phone book or online. They can request an application by phone, fax, mail or in person.
  • Download an application from the Web: A person can also download a CalFresh application in a number of languages.
  • Apply online: People can apply on-line, through the automation system serving their county. (See the tips for applying online, below.)
  • Pick up an application at a community location: Legal aid offices, community action agencies, food banks and welfare rights groups often have CalFresh applications. Many food banks and community organizations now have “food assisters” who can help with on-line applications.
  • Apply for reduced-cost school meals: Counties and schools can treat an application for reduced-cost meals as a CalFresh application if they have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Local Education Agency. [ACIN I-38-13.] (Since no additional funding was provided, this program is voluntary at this point. Check with your county to see if it is participating.)
  • Get linked through Social Security benefits: Individuals on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may have a streamlined application process. This is because the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) works with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to have a means of identifying individuals eligible for benefits. Counties can tap into that information and facilitate the application processing of these individuals. However, counties are not required to have nor use this technology. [See AB 69 (2011).]

People can apply for CalFresh at the same time they apply for or renew their Medi-Cal benefits. This is part of an ongoing process to increase the number of CalFresh beneficiaries. Counties must screen Medi-Cal applicants and beneficiaries for CalFresh interest and eligibility. [ACL 21-52.]

Filling out the application

Counties cannot require applicants to complete any form. [MPP § 63-300.21.] A CalFresh application does not need to be completely filled out to be submitted. As long as the application has the name and address of the applicant, and is signed. Counties may not require the interview to complete an application. [See MPP § 63-300.32; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(b)(1)(v).]  The applicant or recipient is entitled to a receipt when submitting the application or any other documents.  [MPP § 63-300.6.]  Counties are not required to provide a paper copy of an electronic CalFresh application submitted in person at a local office unless the client requests one.  [ACL 20-98.]  However, Counties must give clients who submit an electronic application in person at a local office the opportunity to review the information recorded electronically and counties must inform clients who submit an electronic application in person at a local office that they will be given a paper copy upon request.  [Id.]

The complete CalFresh application form is called the CF 285.  That form is now available on request in digitally accessible format for use by a screen reader, large print format and braille.  [ACL 19-49.]

Since benefits must be issued within 30 days of receipt of an application, it is best to get the application in quickly. The applicant should not wait for help in completing an application. The applicant should send the application in with the name and address information completed and with a signature. The county must then assist the household in completing the rest of the application.

Some counties also work with community-based organizations to assist applicants in filling out the paperwork. If such help is desired, ask your county for community contacts.

Welfare and Institutions Code section 18900.4 now requires counties to give CalFresh households the option to complete an application and recertification by telephone and capture their signature by an electronic method, such as a telephone signature.  The electronic signature method must require the client to take an affirmative action to indicate concurrence, such as a PIN number or giving verbal affirmation; the record of the signature must be maintained electronically and linked to the documents; and the process must constitute a legal signature.  [ACL 22-20.]

In addition, federal law requires the county to make an audio recording of the household’s verbal assent and a summary of the information to which the household assents; the audio file must be linked to the application; and the county must provide the household with a printed copy of the application with instructions for how to correct any errors or omissions.  [ACL 17-57; ACL 22-20.]

County welfare department office access

County welfare departments must implement procedures that ensure members of the public, including those with disabilities, are notified of and have access to county welfare department programs.  [ACIN I-83-21.]  Counties must conduct an annual review of the hours of operation of public offices to ensure that the needs of recipients, including those who work, are adequately met.  [Id.]  Regular business hours are defined as a minimum of 8 hours per day, except Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.  [Id.]  Counties maintain an office that is open to the public that offers basic certification services during regular business hours, including accepting applications, interviewing applicants, and accepting notice of change in household circumstances.  [Id.]  Counties can implement risk reduction measures because of COVID-19 in accordance with local county health orders, such as limiting capacity in lobbies and social distancing.  [Id.]

Absent an order from federal, state or local officials to close counties to the public, counties must continue to offer in-person assistance to applicants and recipients in addition to telephone and internet assistance.  [ACIN I-76-20.]  If a county closes during regular business hours, the county must: 1) provide the opportunity to file an application for and receive benefits within mandated timeframes by making applications available and providing a drop-box, mail slot or other reasonable means for filing applications; 2) provide the opportunity to file an application for and receive expedited CalFresh, by maintaining sufficient staff to accept and act on all such applications, and/or maintain a local telephone service with sufficient staff to accept and act upon all applications as if the requests has been made in person at the county office; 3) have a telephone announcement with working days and times, when the offices will be closed, and procedures for applying for benefits, and 4) post notices at welfare department offices of times when the office will be closed, procedures to obtain and file applications, and procedures for applying for and receiving expedited CalFresh and the right to a receipt for hand-delivered documents. [Id.; ACIN I-83-21.]  Applications are assumed to be filed on the date the office is closed.  [ACIN I-83-21.]  The county must have a method to give a receipt on request.  [Id.]

Counties must provide access to benefits and services by telephone in a timely manner. Extended wait times, which require applicants and recipients to hold for hours or call back on multiple days are not compliant. [Id.]

Best practices for counties include triaging client needs to limit lobby traffic and the number of people in the lobby, setting up stations outside of the county office to accept applications and screen for eligibility, providing accessible phones for clients when the county provides applications in boxes outside of a partially closed office, setting up drive through drop-off stations for no contact delivery of documents, issuing homeless assistance benefits to the client’s EBT card, and offering pick-up mail services for homeless clients. [Id.]

Prerelease application process for incarcerated persons

Currently, California does not have a statewide process for processing pre-release CalFresh applications.  [ACWDL, November 18, 2022.]  California has requested a federal waiver to create such a process.  [Id.]  However, California has a waiver for a pilot project in Orange County from March 1, 2021 to February 28, 2023 that allows incarcerated persons to apply for CalFresh up to 30 days before their release date.  [Id.]

Counties can partner with community based organizations to provide application assistance inside county jails.  [Id.]

Disqualification for certain convicted felons who are not in compliance with their sentence

Any adult who has been convicted of aggravated sexual abuse, murder, sexual exploitation and other abuse of children, a Federal or State offense involving sexual assault, or an offense under State law determined by the Attorney General to be substantially similar to one of the first three offenses listed, after February 7, 2014, and who is not in compliance with the terms of their sentence, will not be eligible for CalFresh benefits. [7 U.S.C. 2015(r); 7 C.F.R. 273.11(s); ACL 23-59; ACL 23-59E.]  This rule was added by the 2014 federal Farm Bill.

7 C.F.R. 273.11(s) require an attestation by all individuals applying or recertifying for CalFresh benefits whether they have been convicted of one of these crimes as an adult, and whether the convicted household member is complying with the terms of their sentence. Individuals may provide attestations in writing, verbally, or both.  CalFresh applications will have a new question where individuals can state whether the individual or any adult member of their household has been convicted of any of the disqualifying crimes, and if so whether they are in compliance with the terms of their sentence. [ACL 23-59; ACL 23-59E.] The online applications will also have the new attestation requirement added. [Id.]

Counties must explain the attestation requirement to the applicant household during the interview. [Id.] Individuals cannot be required to come to the county office only to make the attestation. [Id.] The individual’s attestation must be documented by the county in the case file. [Id.]

Verification can only be requested if the attestations is considered questionable, which is when the application has contradicting information, or discrepancies that would cast doubt on the timeliness, completeness, or accuracy. [Id.] For questionable applications, the county must verify any conviction for crimes and that the individual is out of compliance with the terms of their sentence. When verifying an attestation, counties can use their Special Investigation Unit, Investigators, and R-IEVS Fleeing Felon Match. [Id.]

Application processing must not be delayed beyond required processing times only because verification has not yet been received. [Id.] If the county must act on the case to meet the time standards, the application must be processed without consideration of the individual’s conviction status. [Id.]

The implementation of the new eligibility disqualifications will be effective upon funding and completion of automation in CalSAWS. [Id.]