Underissuances: Getting too few CalFresh benefits

An “underissuance” is when a household gets less in CalFresh benefits than it should have. This happens because the CalFresh office makes a mistake. [MPP § 63-102.(u)(1).] The CalFresh office or the household may not spot the mistake until later.

Any number of things could result in an underissuance: The mistake could be in figuring out how many CalFresh benefits the household should get; the CalFresh office did not tell the household about an exclusion or deduction for which it qualified that would have increased the household’s benefit amount (such as special rules that apply to student aid); a third party’s mistake or delay, such as a delay by the Social Security Administration in providing information; the county deciding that the household was not eligible for CalFresh benefits at all; or the CalFresh office otherwise not giving the household’s application proper consideration.

If the CalFresh office underissued the household’s CalFresh benefits, the household has a right to get the CalFresh benefits that should have been paid. [7 U.S.C. § 2020(b), 2020(e)(11); 7 C.F.R. § 273.17(a)(1); MPP §§ 63-802.1; 63-802.22.] A household can also get back benefits when a disqualification due to an intentional program violation (IPV) is overturned. [7 C.F.R. § 273.17(a)(1); MPP §§ 63-802.112, 63-802.15.] (See the other sections of this Guide about overissuances and fraud claims for related information.)

County welfare offices are supposed to correct any mistake that results in an underissuance as soon as it is discovered, even without the person having to ask for the mistake to be corrected. [7 C.F.R. § 273.17(b); MPP § 63-802.3.] Sometimes, however, underissuances may be “offset” against overissuances. [7 C.F.R. § 273.18(g)(3). MPP §§ 63-801.313; 63-802.2; 63-802.54.] This means that the household may not receive any money back when the mistake is corrected, unless the overissuance was caused by agency error.

Whenever an underissuance is restored, a notice must be sent informing the household of the underissuance, the amount of it, any offsets, and how benefits will be paid back. [7 C.F.R. § 273.17(b).] The notice must also include appeal and hearing rights. [Id.] (For related information, see the sections about notices and hearings.)

Unfortunately, the CalFresh office can only correct underissuances that occurred within one year prior to the date the error was discovered, or within one year of the date that the household requests correction of the underissuance. [7 U.S.C. §§ 2020(e)(11), 2023(b); MPP § 63-802.2.] That said, whenever the CalFresh office itself discovers it gave fewer CalFresh benefits that it should have, the office must repay those CalFresh benefits to the household whether or not the household asks for them. [MPP § 63-802.122; 7 C.F.R. §§ 273.17(a)(1)(i)-(ii), 273.17(b).]

Generally, these retroactive benefits are simply posted to the recipient’s EBT card, after providing notice to the individual. If the underissuance was from one county, and the person now lives in another, there are some technical difficulties, because the benefits from the former county cannot be merged with the current, existing EBT card. However, there is an EBT information update that informs counties owing the benefits how to have a new card printed in the new county. [ACIN I-82-09E (explaining how so-called “cross-county card printing” works).]

A person can get back CalFresh benefits even after they leave CalFresh benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.17(a)(3); MPP § 63-802.13.] A household also has a right to back CalFresh benefits when a court says it got too few CalFresh benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.17(a)(2); 7 U.S.C. § 2023(b); MPP § 63-802.14.]

When the CalFresh office loses one case, it should take steps to help other recipients affected by the practice that was struck down. Similarly, when a court orders USDA to apply different rules to one group of households, FNS should act to ensure that all other households in the same situation will receive benefits under the same rules. [7 U.S.C. § 2014(b); MPP §§ 63-409, 63-501.] If the CalFresh office does not correct the mistake right away, request a fair hearing to rectify the situation.