Households receive CalFresh benefits

What is a “household”

CalFresh benefits are given to “households.” [7 C.F.R. §§ 271.2(a), 274.1(a); MPP § 63-101.1.] Who is in the CalFresh household determines whose income to count, and the amount of benefits the household receives.

A “household” can be a person living alone or a group of people living together who buy food and make meals together. [7 C.F.R. § 273.1(a); MPP § 63-402.1.] Members of a CalFresh household do not need to be related. A person who lives with others, but customarily buys and prepares food separate and apart from others, can be a separate CalFresh household. [Id.] As explained, below, even if related to other members of the household, an “elderly and disabled” person can also be a separate household.

There is no age-requirement threshold to get benefits as your own household. [ACIN I-39-13.] There are some age-based rules about household composition regarding people who cannot have separate households. Households with minor children (or certain children under 19) who meet federal TANF work requirements, can get a small supplemental benefit. [ACL 13-71.]

The state agency must ensure that no one gets duplicate aid. [7 CFR § 272.4(e)(1).] State agencies are required to perform “death matches” against the Death Master File at Social Security. “Death matches” with Social Security Administration data must be conducted at the time of application and at most once per year. [7 C.F.R § 272.14.]

State agencies are also required to perform “prisoner verifications” to check whether the person has been incarcerated longer than 30 days. Prisoner verification must be done at the time of application and recertification. [See FNS memorandum, Routine Checks with Neighboring States to Prevent Duplicate Participation and Performing Deceased and Prisoner Verification Matches (November 15, 2011); see also, 7 CFR § 272.13.] Minor children, and single person households who have undergone a face-to-face (in person) interview are exempt from this verification requirement. [7 C.F.R § 273.13(b)(1).]

For households with 50/50 custody arrangements, the county must ensure that children do not receive aid in two different households. [MPP § 63-402.15.] If both parent’s households are eligible, the county needs to decide which household will be given CalFresh benefits for the child. If the child eats more meals with one parent, that would be the eligible household. Otherwise, the first to apply for aid would be the aided household. The parents can also decide among themselves who should be the recipient household. [MPP §§ 63-402.151(a-c).]

Parents with less than 50% custody could seek additional support for the food needs of their child through the family law court system. Family courts can address the issue of one parent getting full CalFresh benefits.

The CalFresh office will treat some people as one household even if they do not buy food and prepare meals together. (See the chart listing special rules for students, strikers, roomers, boarders, and others in unusual situations.) There may also be people in the household who buy and cook together who cannot get aid because they are “excluded” or who opt not to get aid.

Once the composition of the household is determined, the income and resources of its members are used to determine eligibility. If no exceptions apply, the household must have a gross income below 130% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and a net income below 100% FPL. Many exceptions exist, and a few are detailed below. [7 C.F.R. § 273.9.]

Noncitizen opt-out from applying for CalFresh

Multiple households in the same house

As explained, above, CalFresh benefits are granted based on the concept of the “household.” That said, there can be more than one CalFresh household under the same roof. Having more than one CalFresh household under one roof can result in more benefits for each household.

The test of whether people can be in a group household is whether the group purchases food and prepares meals together. Groups that buy and prepare their food together can split off — as long as they are not required otherwise to be in a particular household — by buying or preparing their food separately, and informing the county welfare case worker that the former, larger single group wants to be aided separately as different, smaller groups.

Having more than one CalFresh household can protect one’s benefits if someone else in the house does not fit the CalFresh eligibility rules. For example, if a household member is not doing the work requirements or has too much income or resources.

Other times, however, it is better for a larger group of people to apply as one CalFresh household. As described, below, there are rules allowing someone who is elderly and disabled to constitue his own CalFresh household. But if the family has a large rent or utility bill, little income — and the household includes an elderly and disabled member — it may be better to apply with everyone together in one household because the eligibility requirements would be eased. For example, such households are not subject to the upper limit or “cap” on their excess shelter deduction. This means that the total amount of rent and utilities can be subtracted from the household’s income, even if the shelter costs are much higher than the shelter cap. Such households are also not subject to the gross income test for eligibility, easing the income restrictions of getting on the CalFresh program.

Special rule for households with an “elderly and disabled” member

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) interprets the “separate household” rule in 7 C.F.R. § 273.1(b)(2) to mean that elderly and disabled individuals residing with others can actually constitute a separate household, even when the elderly and disabled individuals “purchase and prepare meals” together with those with whom they live. [See, FNS Memorandum, Separate Household Status for Disabled Persons (June 12, 2006).]

However “the income of those with whom they reside (excluding the income of the elderly and disabled person) must be no more than 165 percent of the Federal poverty income guideline.” [7 C.F.R. § 273.1(b)(2); MPP § 63-402.17.]

People who cannot be a seperate household

See, generally, MPP § 63-402.14 (“separate household shall not be granted to…”).

  • Children under 18 parentally controlled by a non-parent. [MPP § 63-402.141]. However, emancipated minors are not considered children. [MPP § 63-102(p)(1)(A)], and minors may rebut the parental-control finding. [MPP § 63-102(p)(1)(B).]
  • Parents living with their natural, adopted or step children, or children living with their natural, adopted, or stepparents — unless the child is 22 years or older or is participating in the other parent’s CalFresh benefits household. [MPP § 63-402.142.]
  • Spouses living in the same household. [MPP § 63-402.143.]
  • Individuals or groups living together if they are residents of an institution or residents of a commercial boarding house, or boarders [7 C.F.R. § 273.1(b)(3).

There are numerous definitional exceptions to the the foregoing rules about who is or is not a resident of an “institution” or a “boarder.” For example:

  • For institution exceptions, see MPP § 63-402.4. Certain group living situations are not defined as “institutions.” This includes federally subsidized housing for the elderly; drug and alcohol residential treatment centers; disabled or blind Title II recipients in group living arrangements; domestic violence shelters; foster family homes (but not group homes, unless the program is for disabled youth and meets the requirements of MPP § 63-402.43); and homeless shelters. (See subsections of MPP § 63-402.4 for specific rules.)
  • For boarder exceptions, see MPP § 63-402.3. “Boarders” are ineligible to participate in the CalFresh program independent of the household providing the board. Boarders can get CalFresh benefits with the owner of the boarding house, at the owner’s request. Generally, foster children are treated as boarders. [MPP § 63-402.322.] The rules define a boarder as one receiving some food and lodging for reasonable compensation. Unless included in the household at the owner’s request, a boarder’s income and resources do not count against a household. However, the money boarders pay does count as income for the household. Those who do not fulfill the requirements to be a boarder are treated as part of the larger household. [MPP §§ 63-402.322(a-b).]
  • AB 12 Youth exception — And then there is the further exception to the “boarders” rule for “AB 12 youth” in “extended foster care” living in a supervised independent living placement. “AB 12 youth” are “non-minor dependents.” By statute they are deemed to be living independently, so they do not fall into the foster-care/boarder rule. [See Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 11400(w), 11402(i).] If they purchase and prepare their food separately, they should qualify as a separate household. If they purchase and prepare their food with the supervising adult, they would be part of the larger CalFresh household.

Domestic Violence Survivors

A domestic violence survivor who is a resident of a shelter and whose current CalFresh household includes the abuser can apply for CalFresh as a separate household and may be eligible for an additional allotment of CalFresh once per month.  Shelter residents and their children can be aided as members of the former household and as members of a new household once per month.  [Welf. & Inst. Code § 18914.5; ACL 17-30.]  These rules apply to all domestic violence survivors regardless of gender or sex.  [ACIN I-09-18.]

If the domestic violence survivor is the head of household, the survivor may ask to close the former CalFresh case that included the abuser.  If the request is made is writing or in the presence of an eligibility worker, the change can be made with adequate notice.  If the request is made verbally, the county must provide both adequate and timely (10 days) notice.  [Id.]

Applications for persons aided in another household

A family may apply for CalFresh for someone who is already receiving CalFresh in another household.  In that situation, the county must verify with whom the individual shares the majority of his/her meals.  [ACIN I-21-12.]  If the county determines that the child should be aided in the applicant household; the county discontinues aid for the child in the former household mid-period and grants CalFresh benefits to the new household.  [Id.] If the household where the new member has moved is applying for CalFresh (as opposed to adding new member to an existing CalFresh household) the new applicant household may be entitled to get Expedited Service, if otherwise eligible, except for the new household member whose presence is in question.

When discontinuing the child from the first household, the county must provide that household with timely and adequate notice (10 days), and may not grant aid to the applicant household until the first of the month after the child’s current benefits have been discontinued.  [Id.]  Since reporting household composition changes is a voluntary mid-period report, no overissuance may be assessed on the current household based on their not reporting the child leaving the home outside of the semi-annual reporting timeframe, not requesting a mid-period discontinuance, or the inability of the county to discontinue aid due to timely notice requirements.  [Id.]