Non-compliance with a work requirement

Overview of work-related sanctions

The CalFresh program may impose various sanctions, taking the form of the reduction or outright loss of benefits, that occur for work-related failures. These sanctions do not apply to any applicant or recipient who meets one of the exemptions from work requirements.

When a recipient does not comply with mandatory work requirements or voluntarily quits a job, without good cause, he is disqualified from CalFresh benefits and considered ineligible household members. [MPP §§ 63-407.5 and 63-407.86; 7 C.F.R. § 273.1(b)(7) (ineligible household member provisions) and 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f) (disqualification provisions).]  Note that currently there are no mandatory CalFresh work requirements.  The only possible CalFresh sanction in California today is a comparable disqualification for failure to comply with CalWORKs Welfare-to-Work requirements described below.  The remainder of the this section will apply if California state-wide work requirement waiver expires and is not renewed.

Recipients can also be sanctioned for failing to comply with “substitute” work programs. This includes any person assigned a mandatory CalFresh work requirement who is sanctioned by a refugee or General Assistance (GA) work program. [MPP § 63-407.54.] Similarly, there will be an impact on deferred and voluntary CalFresh work participants resulting from the failure to comply in a sister program. [See [ACL 10-11 and ACL 12-03.] Recipients are also subject to CalFresh sanctions for failure to comply with CalWORKs welfare-to-work requirements.

The length of the sanction depends on the number of violations of work requirements. The county must issue a specific disqualification notice. After serving the required length of sanction, the recipient must also end the disqualification.

Voluntary quit or reducing work effort

CalFresh applicants and recipients, unless exempt or deferred from work registration and participation, may not voluntarily quit a job or reduce earning without good cause. [MPP § 63-408.3; 7 C.F.R. §273.7(j).] This sanction only applies if the job was for 30 or more hours a week, or the pay was equal to 30 hours at minimum wage. [MPP § 63-408.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(1)(vii) and (j)(2)(i).]

“Voluntary quit” is defined at 63-408.11. The “quit” penalty is not imposed if the person quits, gets a new job, and then subsequently loses the job through no fault of the recipient. [MPP § 63-408.112; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(i)(3)(vii).] Ceasing self-employment is not considered a voluntary quit. [MPP § 63-408.111; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(j)(3)(ii).]

Regardless whether the application is for expedited (emergency) or regular CalFresh benefits, the county is not to delay the processing of the application, pending a “voluntary-quit” or “reduction-of-work-effort” good cause determination.

If the county finds that the applicant voluntarily quit without good cause within 60 days of the application, or during the application processing time period, it will impose the sanction by denying the application or reducing the benefits. (See related information in the the discussion below about the length of sanctions.)

“Substitute work” and “welfare-to-work” program sanctions

The regulations provide that, for the substitute work programs, a recipient can get a CalFresh penalty based on a failure to meet program requirements in a cash-aid work program. [MPP § 63-407.54; ACL 10-11.] (See also the section below about the length of sanctions.) However, such sanctions cannot be imposed for failure to follow a procedural requirements, or for something that happens at initial application.  [7 C.F.R. § 273.11(j).] Currently, other than for CalWORKS welfare-to-work failures, E&T work program sanctions can only occur if the E&T assignment is mandatory. Counties must register applicants and recipients for work, but after that all assignments can be voluntary. [ACL 10-11.]

For purposes of the substitute program regulations, CDSS considers only GA and refugee work programs to be substitute programs. Sanctions occur if the person is sanctioned for failing to comply with the work requirements of a “non-CalWORKs” welfare-to-work assignment (e.g., in a GA or refugee program), if the assignment was also a mandatory CalFresh Employment and Training (E&T) assignment. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(7); ACL 10-11 (clarifying MPP § 63-407.541 with regard to voluntary participants).]

All that matters for CalFresh sanction purposes, however, is whether there is a mandatory E&T assignment to one of the substitute programs. The issue is not whether the cash-aid program mandates the work program as a condition of eligibility for cash aid, but whether the person is also required to do the program as a mandatory E&T assignment. If the substitute work program assignment was not a mandatory E&T assignment, there is no CalFresh sanction.  As long as the state-wide waiver is effective, there is no mandatory E&T assignment in California.  This means that, while GA or refugee programs can sanction for non-compliance, CalFresh cannot.

If the recipient is a mandatory CalWORKs welfare-to-work participant, she will also encur a CalFresh sanction if she is sanctioned for welfare-to-work, unless she meets a CalFresh work registration exemption (e.g., has a child under age six). [MPP § 63-407.54, see Work rules and requirements.]  This is the only CalFresh sanction that can currently be imposed in California.  Effective October 1, 2025, California Food Assistance Program recipients who do not comply with CalWORKs Welfare to Work will no longer evaluated for a corresponding CFAP sanction.  [ACL 23-57.]

FNS has clarified that the “comparable disqualification” from a needs-based-cash aid program can only occur only if the household member is getting both cash aid and food benefits (e.g., CalWORKs or GA, and CalFresh) at the time the disqualification for the cash aid program is imposed. See FNS Memo, Clarification of Comparable Disqualification (April 25, 2012).

Once penalized, the individual can reapply when exempt or the penalty period has expired. [MPP § 63-408.222(b)-(c); 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(g).] However, if the individual is part of an aided CalFresh household, and the fixed-period time sanction has expired, the county should automatically add the person back into the household and adjust the allotment to reflect that change.

Good cause

The definition of “good cause” includes:

  • Circumstances beyond the registrant’s control, such as illness, illness of another household member requiring the presence of the registrant, a household emergency, the unavailability of transportation, or problems caused by inability of the registrant to speak or write English;
  • Resigning from an unsuitable job, including one which illegally discriminates, imposes unreasonable work demands or schedules;
  • Acceptance by the individual of employment, or enrollment of at least half-time in any recognized school, training program or institution of higher education requiring the individual to leave employment;
  • Acceptance by any other household member of employment or enrollment at least half-time in any recognized school, training program or institution of higher education in another county or state which requires the household to move, thereby requiring the work registrant to leave employment;
  • Resignations by persons under the age of 60 which are recognized by the employer as retirement;
  • Acceptance of a bona fide offer of employment of 30 hours or more a week or at the equivalent wages when, because of circumstances beyond the control of the individual, the job either does not materialize or results in fewer hours of employment;
  • Lack of adequate child care arrangements for a registrant’s children between ages six and 12 years old.
  • Anticipated hours of employment are unpredictable. [ACL 23-30.]
  • The applicant or recipient’s workplace rights listed in Welfare and Institutions Code section 11320.31(a) were violated.  [ACL 23-30.]

[MPP § 63-408.4.]

Also, note that if the child is older than 13, but is unable to be left alone because of an impairment or is under court supervision, the exemption would also apply, since that is the standard for dependent care in CalFresh benefits.

Disqualification notice

Within 10 days of discovering the recipient did not have good cause for the non-compliance, the county is required to issue a notice of disqualification. [MPP § 63-407.52.] The notice must list a description of the act of non-compliance; identify the minimum length of the CalFresh disqualification; and specify that, if at any time the individual becomes exempt from work requirements, the disqualification shall end and the individual may reapply. The county must also inform the individual, in the disqualification notice or a notice sent with it, what action the he can take to avoid the ineligibility before the disqualification period begins. The disqualification notice must state that the individual, if otherwise eligible, may apply for CalFresh benefits at the end of the disqualification period.

Length of sanctions and required notice

The sanction will result in the denial of the individual’s application or a reduction to reflect the individual’s benefits for one, three or six months—for the first, second and subsequent violations respectively. [MPP §§ 63-407.53, 63-408.213 (voluntary quit penalty); 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(j)(1) and (3)(vi).] These are the penalties for work program failures only. The CalFresh penalties based on “non-work” program failures have a different effect, namely, to not increase the Cal Fresh benefits when the household’s benefits from a means-tested cash aid program have been reduced due to a substantive failure to comply with a requirement of the program. [MPP § 63-503.71; 7 C.F.R. § 273.11(j).])

The disqualification starts the first of the month following the month the individual is provided timely notice of adverse action. [MPP § 63-407.53; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(2).] The county must issue proper notice prior to imposing the sanction. [MPP § 63-408.2; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(j)(3)(vii).]

For a household of one, the person will be terminated. If there are others in the household, the sanctioned individual is treated as an ineligible household member. (For more details about the treatment of the income and resources of ineligible household members, see the section about people who cannot get CalFresh benefits and how to count their income and resources.)

If the person leaves the CalFresh program before the disqualification is imposed, the period of ineligibility will run continuously beginning the first of the month after notice of disqualification, until the individual ends the disqualification. If the voluntary quit occurs in the last month of the certification period, the period of disqualification will begin the day after the certification period ends and continues for the length of the disqualification, regardless whether the individual reapplies for CalFresh benefits. [MPP § 63-408.225; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(j)(3)(vii).]

The length of the sanction is based upon any previous sanctions and/or disqualifications imposed for failing to comply with any of the work program requirements. These include:

  • Failure to comply with the provisions of work registration set forth in MPP § 63-407.4.
  • Failure to comply with work programs through unemployment, CalWORKs welfare-to-work, or other substitute work programs set forth in MPP § 63-407.54.
  • Voluntarily quitting or reducing work effort, per MPP § 63-408.

Ending a disqualification

If the individual had become exempt from work requirements at any time during the disqualification period, the person need only reapply, if not on aid. [MPP § 63-407.61.] If the sanctioned person who becomes exempt is part of an on-going CalFresh household, their eligibility is re-established the first of the month following the ending of the sanction. [See e.g., the Handbook section after MPP § 63-407.542(b).] There is no “cure” requirement.

The county will end the disqualification after the minimum period of the sanction if the individual is in compliance with the CalFresh work registration requirements, by either having the county document that she is registered, or by her agreeing to fulfill the requirements the county specifies at the time of application, such as signing an acknowledgment form. [MPP § 63-407.6.]

If the person disqualified is an ABAWD, the person must participate in the work program, by working 80 hours or more, doing workfare, or doing 80 hours of an allowable work program activity to end the disqualification, or becoming exempt or deferred. [MPP §§ 63-407.6, 63-410.5; see also, ACL 12-03 (deferrals for ABAWDs.]

For other sanctions, after serving the minimum period of disqualification, the sanctioned individual must reapply for CalFresh benefits, if not part of an existing household. The county should automatically add the person back in at the end of the period, as is done with ending intentional program violation (IPV) sanctions. [ACL 12-06.]

A person can reapply for CalFresh benefits in the final month of the disqualification period. If that happens, the county is to send a denial (for the final month of the disqualification) and process the application for the prospective months. [MPP § 63-408.63.]

The effect of a sanction in a “sister” cash-aid program (e.g., CalWORKs or GA) is that the county will not increase CalFresh benefits when the household’s benefits in the cash-aid program have been reduced due to failure to comply with a requirement of that program. [MPP § 63-503.71.]