Written notice required when the county plans to stop or change someone’s benefits

“Timely and adequate notice” requirement

In most cases the CalFresh office must send the household a “timely and adequate notice” at least 10 days before it stops or reduces your CalFresh benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(1); MPP § 63-504.213.] In all instances this must be in writing.  CalFresh benefits and special allowances should be restored in situations where the notices to discontinue were inadequate. Should the CalFresh office send the notice to the wrong address, the notice is neither timely nor adequate. Having a “conversation” with the recipient is not sufficient to meet this requirement.

The 10 days start when the notice is mailed or — with the household’s permission — sent electronically. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(1); MPP § 63-504.213; ACL 13-61.] If the CDSS learns that the e-notice was not received, it must send a traditional paper notice. [Id.] For mailed notices, the recipient should save the envelope in which the notice came so that one can show proof of the date it was actually mailed. If a household says that it received no notice, the CalFresh office must show that a notice was sent, either with first-hand testimony about mailing or by showing that routine mailing procedure was followed. No one should assume that the date on the notice was the date it was mailed unless it is specifically identified as a mailing date.

Absent a return receipt or competent testimony that the notice was sent, a purported notice that the household denies receiving may not suffice to start the limitations period for appealing the agency’s action. Similarly, a notice sent to an incompetent person may not start the appeal period running under some circumstances.

An adequate notice must tell the recipient what the CalFresh office plans to do, why the office is doing it, and when the office will do it. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(2); MPP § 63-504.211(a).] This notice must clearly explain the reasons for the CalFresh office’s action. [See, e.g., Ortiz v. Eichler, 794 F.2d 889 (3d Cir. 1986).] The notice must tell the household about its right to a fair hearing and about the right to keep getting the same amount of CalFresh benefits while the household waits for its fair hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(2); MPP § 63-504.211(a).]  The “Here’s Why” section of an overissuance notice must explain the specific reason(s) for the overissuance and provide sufficient detail to allow the household to determine if any “incorrect”
information was used in the overissuance determination.  [ACL 16-71.]  An adequate notice alleging failure to submit required verification must individually list what verification the household failed to provide.  [ACIN I-33-21.]  This applies whether one or multiple verifications are missing.  [Id.]

Counties may, at the county’s option and if the county meets technical requirements, provide electronic notice (“e-notices”), with a household’s consent. [ACL 19-39; ACL 13-61.]  Households must be informed of the option to receive e-notices at application and recertification.  [Id.]  Households must be able to opt-out of e-notices at any time.  [Id.]  If an email is undelivered, the county must send a paper notice.  [Id.]  Counties can also send a text message in addition to an email to inform clients that an e-notice is available.  [ACL 19-39.]

Effective as early as October 1, 2024, or as late as October 1, 2025 depending on automation, the Notice of Approval (CF 377.1), the Notice of Denial or Pending Status (CF 377.1A), and the Notice of Change for Semi-Annual Reporting Households (CF 377.4 SAR) will include a budget, an explanation of both CalFresh and the California Food Assistance Program, 3) a non-discrimination statement, and 4) a new denial reason that the applicant is eligible for both CalFresh and the California Food Assistance Program.  [ACL 23-79.]  In addition, the CF 377.1 and CF 377.4 SAR will include the amount of the household’s Income Reporting Threshold.  [Id.}  The CF 377.1 will include a list of eligible persons, a list of individuals found to be ineligible, and the reasons for their ineligibility.  [Id.]

When “timely and adequate notice” is not required

The CalFresh office can give a household less than ten days advance notice that it is stopping or cutting the household’s benefits when the household itself tells the CalFresh office something in writing that makes it clear that the CalFresh benefits must go down. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.13(a)(3)(i), (ii)-(iii) and 273.21(j)(2)(ii); MPP § 22-072.2(b).] In that situation, the CalFresh office must give the recipient a notice no later than the day one’s benefits normally come. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(3); MPP § 22-072.2(b).]

The recipient still has the right to a fair hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(3)(iv); MPP § 63-504.211(a)(3).] The household also has the right to keep getting the same amount of CalFresh benefits it had been getting while it waits for the hearing officer to decide if it wins the hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(3)(v); MPP § 63-504.211(a)(4).] If the recipient household asks for a hearing right away and its certification period has not ended, the CalFresh office must make sure the household receives the same amount of CalFresh benefits it usually gets within five days of when the CalFresh office gets the request for a hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(3)(vi); MPP § 22-073.11.]

The CalFresh program does not have to send the household the normal kind of notice when it is stopping or cutting the household’s benefits because of a “mass change,” which is a program change that affects many households at once. [7 C.F.R. § 273.13(b)(1); MPP §§ 63-504.266(k) and 63-504.267(a).] There are two kinds of mass changes. One kind involves changes in the CalFresh program itself. This could be a change in benefit levels, a change in deductions, a change in the standard utility allowance or a change in maximum income limits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.12(e)(1); MPP § 63-504.391.] The other kind of mass change happens when benefits go up or down in another program, such as CalWORKs [TANF], General Assistance or Social Security. [7 C.F.R. § 273.12(e)(2)-(3); MPP § 63-504.392.]

The CalFresh office may send the household a notice to tell it about a change in its CalFresh benefits because of a mass change in the way CalFresh benefits are figured. If the CalFresh office does not send a notice about a mass change, it must put something in newspapers or on radio or TV about the mass change. [7 C.F.R. § 273.12(e)(1)(ii); MPP § 63-504.391.]

When the state’s SNAP program stops or cuts benefits as part of a mass change triggerd by increases in payments in other programs, the state’s SNAP program may send the recipient a regular notice. If it does not send the household a regular notice, it must send it a special mass change notice. [7 C.F.R. § 273.12(e)(4); MPP § 63-504.392(b) (Handbook).]

The CalFresh office must send the recipient household notice of a mass change that happens because of a change in another program at least 10 days before the household’s benefits are supposed to come. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.12(e)(4)(iii), 273.13(a)(1); MPP § 63-504.392(a).] The mass change notice should explain separately the effect on the household’s benefits under each program affected. A mass change notice does not have to say as much as a regular notice. [7 C.F.R. § 273.12(e)(4)(i); MPP § 63-504.392(b) (Handbook).]

The CalFresh household has the right to ask for a hearing if it does not agree with the way the county changed its CalFresh benefits as part of a mass change. [7 C.F.R. § 273.12(e)(5); 63-504.392(b) (Handbook).] The household can keep getting the same amount of CalFresh benefits it got before the mass change while it waits for a hearing officer to make a decision, provided the household asks for a hearing within 10 days of the date of any notice the county sends it, or — if the CalFresh office does not send a notice — within 10 days of when it cuts the household’s CalFresh benefits. [7 C.F.R. §§ 273.12(e)(6), 273.15(k)(1); MPP § 63-504.392(b) (Handbook).] (For more details, see the section about continuing benefits while waiting for fair hearing.)

To keep getting the same amount of CalFresh benefits, the household must tell the county that it thinks the county figured the benefits the wrong way, or is not following applicable federal or California statutes or regulations. [7 C.F.R. § 273.12(e)(6)(iii); MPP § 22-072.5.] The mass change notice should explain this right to the recipient household. [See Hurley v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 676 F.2d 1095 (6th Cir. 1982).]