The interview process

Applicants and the interview

The CalFresh interview serves two main purposes. One purpose is to acquaint the applicant with the program, to answer questions that applicant may have, and to inform applicants of their rights and responsibilities. The other purpose is to gather additional information to determine the household’s eligibility for benefits. Interviews are conducted at application and recertification.

Counties are required to schedule the interview “as promptly as possible to ensure eligible households receive an opportunity to participate within 30 days after the application is filed.” [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(e)(3); MPP § 63-300.46.] Counties may opt into an “on-demand” phone interview process. However, once a county has opted in, all interviews in that county must be done “on-demand” unless the applicant requests an in-person interview or it is apparent the household is eligible for expedited (emergency) services. Counties also have existing non-waiver authority to allow households to do a telephone interview without a scheduled appointment by calling into the county. [See ACL 14-20.]

The interview can be done with the head of the household, their spouse, any responsible member of the household, or an authorized representative. Applicants are allowed to bring anyone they want to the interview. [ACL 21-24.]

Counties must implement one of these interview scheduling methods for CalWORKs no later than July 1, 2021: time block interviews, telephonic contact in conjunction with written communication about scheduling an interview, and same day interviews.  For time block interviews, the designated time block must give households a reasonable window of time to expect a call.  [Id.]  For initial applications, the interview must be scheduled as promptly as possible to ensure that eligible households have an opportunity to participate.  For recertification, the interview must be scheduled so that the household has at least 10 days after the interview to provide verification.  [ACL 21-24, and ACL 21-24E.]  Regardless of the scheduling method used, if a household misses its scheduled interview, at initial application or recertification, the county must send a Notice of Missed Interview.  [ACL 21-24.] The implementation deadline for flexible interview scheduling was extended to January 1, 2022.  [ACL 21-150.]

Interviews are routinely done by telephone for both applications and recertifications.  Counties can do face-to-face interviews if necessary.  However, if a face-to-face interview would be a hardship, the interview must be done by telephone or at a home visit.  Counties must inform applicants that they can have a face-to-face interview and must provide a face-to-face interview if that is requested. [ACL 17-80.]

The interview is considered an “official and confidential” discussion. An applicant’s right to privacy must be maintained. The place where the interview occurs must be adequate to preserve the privacy and confidentiality of the interview. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(e)(1).] The scope of the interview cannot extend beyond the examination of eligibility for assistance. [MPP § 63.300.4.] Applicants always have a right to ask questions during the interview.

County case workers and the interview

County case workers have a responsibility to make the applicant feel at ease in the interview. [MPP § 63-300.4.] This includes informing the household of the following:

  • The household’s right to a timely determination of benefits;
  • Its responsibility to report changes; and
  • The right of household members to non-discrimination.

The case worker should help applicants through the rest of the application process. If the applicant has not filled out all of the CalFresh application, California requires the case worker to help the household complete the application. The case worker should review the information in the application and “explore and resolve with the household any unclear or incomplete information.”[7 C.F.R. § 273.2(e)(1); MPP § 63-300.4.] The case worker should also gather and review the list of additional items needed to complete the process. [MPP § 63-300.4.]

Even before eligibility is determined, case workers must discuss with applicants their program responsibilities and requirements including the reporting requirements. This helps ensure that the applicant knows what is expected of her, if determined eligible. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(e)(1); MPP § 63-300.4.]

The interview and verification

During the interview the worker will ask for proof about some things on the application. The Food and Nutrition Act requires the CalFresh office, at the time of application, to give the household a list of things it must do to determine eligibility . [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(c)(5); MPP § 63-300.37.]

The list should be things applicants must prove with documentation. For example: Citizenship could be proved by a birth certificate, baptismal record, and so on. The county cannot request a specific type of verification, nor can it require an applicant to successfully get the proof. The county request must state that the county can help obtain verification, and may be able to pay fees related to getting the requested documentation. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(5)(i); MPP § 63-300.5(i). Simply put, the CalFresh office cannot require applicants to succeed in getting all the information, so long as the applicant can show proof of trying all reasonable efforts to get it.

Households must be given at least 10 days from the date of the request to provide required verification. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f); MPP § 63-300.5(a)(1).]

Home visits and the verification process

Applicants and recipients must cooperate in establishing eligibility in order to receive benefits. This may include a home visit when documentary evidence is insufficient to provide “a firm determination of eligibility or benefit level.” [MPP §63-300.5(h)(3), (i); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(4)(iii).] Home visits must only occur on a case-by-case basis, and must be scheduled in advance with the household. [MPP § 63-300.45]. The county must work out a time with the applicant for the visit before a worker comes, however it does not have to tell applicants the exact time of day of the visit. Applicants do not have to let workers visit their home, but this could lead to a denial of benefits.

Missed interviews

If applicants miss their first interview, the CalFresh office must try to help set up another interview. The county must notify each household that misses its interview appointment that it missed the scheduled interview. The household is responsible for rescheduling a missed interview. If the initial interview is missed, it is imperative for the applicant to contact the county. If contacted within the 30-day application window, the county must schedule a second interview within this 30-day period. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.2(e)(3), 273.2(h)(1)(i)(D); MPP § 63-300.46.]

The county cannot deny benefits within 30 days of submitting an application due to a missed first interview. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(e)(3).] If applicants miss a second interview, the CalFresh office can deny the application. However, an applicant can call the CalFresh office to request an additional interview, but only if the office has not yet issued a denial. Once the CalFresh office has issued a denial, the applicant is permitted to start the application process again.

If there has not been a request for a second interview, the household can request the interview within 30 days period.  (7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2).)  If the household takes the required action within 60 days, the county should reopen the application without requiring a new application.  (7 C.F.R. § 273.2(h)(2)(A).)