What counts as an “intentional program violation” (IPV)?

Fraud does not mean that a person simply made a mistake. Fraud does not mean forgetting to tell the CalFresh office something. Fraud is something a person does on purpose that they know is wrong.

The hearing official must find that the household member “committed, and intended to commit, [an] intentional program violation.” [7 C.F.R. § 273.16(e)(6); see also 7 C.F.R. § 273.16(a)(1).] The redundancy in this language in the federal law emphasizes that the individual must have known she was breaking the CalFresh Program’s rules, not simply known what actions she was taking. [See 7 U.S.C. § 2015(b)(1); 7 U.S.C. § 2024(b)(1).]

Few CalFresh offices tell households that they may not use their CalFresh benefits to pay for food bought on credit. It is a program violation to use CalFresh benefits to pay for food that a person previously bought on credit. [See 7 C.F.R. § 274.7(b).] But using CalFresh benefits to pay for food previously bought on credit is not an intentional program violation if the person did not know that it was wrong.

County CalFresh offices should not assume that recipients are dishonest. [See, e.g., Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160, 177 (1941) (“poverty and immorality are not synonymous”); see also, 7 C.F.R. § 273.16(c); MPP § 20-300.1.]

To prove that a person committed fraud, the CalFresh office must prove the person:

  • told the CalFresh office a lie or something that would mislead it on purpose;
  • Purposefully did not tell the CalFresh office about or hid facts that had to do with getting CalFresh benefits;
  • Did something on purpose that violated the CalFresh Act, federal regulations or any state law about CalFresh benefits, such that the person could get, have, use, or give someone CalFresh benefits or EBT cards the household was not eligible to receive; or
  • Sold an EBT card or CalFresh benefits or bought non-food items with CalFresh benefits, or used the CalFresh benefits to pay for food that had been previously bought on credit, and the person knew this was wrong.

[7 C.F.R. § 273.16(c); MPP § 20-300.1.]

California has created a category called a potential IPV for claims where the county believes there is an IPV, and the claim is beyond the 24-month establishment period.  [ACL 23-19.]  When the county creates a potential IPV claim, there will be two claims on the case, the nonfraudulent claim and the potential IPV claim.  Collection on the potential IPV claim must be immediately suspended.  [Id]

IPV claims are limited to six years before the date of discovery.

If a potential IPV claim is substantiated through either criminal prosecution or the administrative disqualification hearing process, the county must change the potential IPV to an IPV. [Id.] If a potential IPV is not substantiated through either criminal prosecution or the administrative disqualification hearing process, the county must delete the potential IPV claim. [Id.]

Starting March 1, 2023, if a county investigation reveals sufficient evidence to refer the case for either criminal prosecution or an administrative disqualification hearing, the county must send a potential IPV informing notice to inform the client of the potential IPV amount beyond the 24-month period.  [Id.]