Getting food assistance after a disaster or household misfortune

Individual Replacement of CalFresh benefits (household misfortune or disaster)

The CalFresh office will replace the actual value of food destroyed in a disaster, such as a fire or flood, for a person already on CalFresh benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 274.6(a)(1); MPP § 63-603.1-.113.] The disaster can be a large one that affects many people or it can be a small one that affects only one household, such as a house fire.

The household has only ten days to report the food loss to the CalFresh office by phone or in person unless the county of residence is granted an extension of timely reporting rules.  [7 C.F.R. § 274.6(a)(4)(ii); MPP § 63-603.15, All County Welfare Directors Letter, December 19, 2017.] The household must complete a CF 303 form to request replacement benefits.  [ACL 19-95; All County Welfare Directors Letter, December 19, 2017.]  The office will verify what happened by calling the Red Cross, the fire department, or someone else who knows about what happened, or by coming out to the person’s home. [ACL 19-95; 7 C.F.R. § 274.6(a)(6)(ii); MPP § 63-603.62.] EBT cards may also be replaced. [7 C.F.R. § 274.6(b); MPP § 63-603.11; § 63-603.43.]

The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 authorizes USDA to allow for replacement of food up to the value of the maximum allotment for the household. [7 U.S.C. § 2014(h)(3)(A); see also, 7 C.F.R. § 274.6(a)(3)(iii) (replacement “up to a maximum of one month’s allotment”); and MPP § 63-603.23.]

To replace the destroyed food, the CalFresh office can give up to the maximum monthly CalFresh allotment for the household size. If the household recently got retroactive benefits (from correction of an underissuance) the office can replace the food bought with those benefits as well. [7 C.F.R. § 274.6(a)(3)(iii); MPP § 63-603.23.] There is no limit to the number of times you can get this help, if you have multiple misfortunes. [7 C.F.R. § 274.6(a)(3)(ii); MPP § 63-603.224.]

Counties determine on a case-by-case basis whether to provide full or partial replacement.  A recommended method for determining the amount of replacement benefits is to determine the daily issuance amount and multiply that by the number of days between the issuance and the disaster.  [ACL 19-95.] For power outages, replacement is 70 percent of the calculated amount because the United States Department of Agriculture determined that 30 percent of food purchased is not perishable and therefore would not need to be replaced. [ACL 19-95.]

Requests for replacement of food bought with CalFresh benefits that are lost because of household misfortune are made using the Replacement Affidavit/Authorization (CF 303).  There is no limit on the number of replacements in the same month if food is lost in a household misfortune.  [ACL 21-15.]

For multiple replacements from the same household misfortune, replacement issuance cannot exceed the household’s regular monthly CalFresh allotment.  For multiple misfortunes in the same month, each replacement request must be assessed independently and can exceed the household’s regular CalFresh allotment.  [Id.]

Under California’s rules, the applicant is entitled to a “supervisory” review of a denial and a state fair hearing concerning disaster-related food benefits. [MPP § 63-900.7.]

Mass replacement of CalFresh benefits following a disaster

Mass replacements allow for automatic replacement of a certain percentage of household benefits. CDSS must get a federal waiver for mass replacement. Mass replacements are typically issued by zip code. Mass replacement is possible if at least half of the households in the zip code were without power for four hours or more. A zip code can only be approved for one mass issuance per month, regardless of how many disasters occur in a month. [ACL 21-15.]

Households that receive a mass replacement can receive an individual replacement if they request it and can verify that the mass replacement did not cover the entire food loss or if there is a second misfortune in the same month. A household that received an individual replacement cannot receive a mass replacement for the same month. [Id.]

Applications following a disaster

County welfare departments statewide must serve displaced applicants under regular CalFresh rules, including expedited service, regardless of whether they are permanent residents of the county of application.  If verification of residency or other verification is impossible, the county must accept self-certification.  All County Welfare Directors Letter, December 19, 2017.]  The county must also provide options for mailing to persons without a permanent mailing address.   [Id.]

Continuing cases following a disaster

Counties statewide must serve displaced households with an active CalFresh case in the disaster-affected area.  [Id.]  The county may contact the county with the active case for assistance.  Counties must serve displaced recipients regardless of the computer system consortia used by the county.  [Id.]

Disaster CalFresh benefits

Special rules let CalFresh office help victims of a disaster. [7 U.S.C. § 2014(h)(1); 7 C.F.R. § 280.1; MPP § 63-900.] These rules allow USDA to let people get CalFresh benefits even if they do not qualify under normal rules. It also allows the CalFresh office to issue stamps much more quickly.

USDA can authorize food assistance in disaster situtations if the President declares the area a natural disaster, or there is lesser disaster, and:

  • The people were victims of a large flood, fire, hurricane, or other disaster;
  • The disaster closed or destroyed stores, or stopped the stores from getting supplies;
  • The people need food for a short time; and
  • Stores are now selling food again.

[7 U.S.C. § 2014 (h)(1); 7 C.F.R. § 280.1; MPP § 63-900.2.]

This “disaster authority” can also be used to find an alternate way to deliver CalFresh benefits when the EBT system won’t work. [7 C.F.R. 280.1; MPP § 63-900.6.] USDA does not have to use the same special rules in each disaster and each disaster program varies. [See FNS Questions and Answers about Disaster Assistance.] This authority is typically used to dispense with normal income or resource criteria and/or to allow flat minimum allotments to be issued without the usual complex benefit calculation.

USDA usually will only use these rules in geographic areas that the governor has declared disaster areas, or in lesser disasters, when the state (or the county through the state) asks for this help. [See FNS Disaster SNAP (Food Stamps) Program Guidance; see also, ACIN I-55-07.] The regional FNS office will deal with the state (and local) welfare office in setting up the program. [MPP § 63-900.2.]

CDSS and counties must now request to operate D-CalFresh when the President of the United States issues a major disaster declaration.  [ACL 18-17.]  The request must include a waiver request to provide automatic, mass replacement of CalFresh benefits to eligible, ongoing CalFresh households affected by disaster and a waiver request to allow households to purchase hot, prepared food at authorized retailers with D-CalFresh benefits.  [Id.]

Historically, USDA has been resistant to authorizing disaster-related SNAP benefits in situations where the disaster — even if declared one by the President — is not a “natural disaster,” e.g., flood, fire, earthquake or hurricane. For example, in 1992 in the wake of the civil unrest — the so-called “Rodney King” riots — that destroyed large parts of Los Angeles, USDA initially refused to authorize disaster-related food stamps even though requested by California state officials. It was only after being sued in federal court that USDA, under threat of a federal court order, relented and authorized benefits for residents of affected areas of Los Angeles. See, Deloney v. Madigan, No. CV-92-2990-MRP (C.D.Cal. 1992). Effective January 1, 2018, all counties must submit a CalFresh disaster plan annually.  [ACL 18-17.]  CDSS, in consultation with counties and additional stakeholders, must identify the necessary elements of a county disaster plan.  [Id.]  CalFresh disaster plans must identify mutual aid regions consisting of two or more counties.  [Id.]

Upon county request, CDSS must provide necessary support for out-stationed D-CalFresh application intake locations and make available technology and equipment for mobile issuance of EBT cards to D-CalFresh recipients.  [Id.]

In addition, individual disaster supplements can be issued during approved application periods for areas that have received a Presidential Declaration of Disaster.  The household must submit a CF 303 form during the Disaster CalFresh application period.  When counties find a household eligible for a disaster supplement, they must issue the benefit within three days, or no more than seven days of the request is deemed questionable.  The disaster supplement amount is the maximum benefit amount for the household size minus the actual monthly allotment for the household.  [ACL 19-95.] The maximum gross income for D-CalFresh eligibility for the period October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020 is listed in ACIN I-63-19 starting at $1,777 for a household of one.