What the CalFresh program must do when the household asks for a fair hearing

In most cases, when a recipient household — i.e., one already receiving benefits — asks for a fair hearing, the CalFresh office must make sure that the household keeps getting the same amount of CalFresh benefits while waiting for a decision on the hearing. (See the section of this Guide about continuing benefits while waiting for fair hearing for more details).

If an applicant household — i.e., one newly applying for CalFresh benefits — asks for a hearing because the CalFresh office did not give it expedited service (also known as emergency benefits), a supervisor from the CalFresh office must offer to meet with the applicant within two days of when asked for a hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(d)(2); MPP § 63-804.4.] This is called an “agency conference” and it is optional. The household can have both an agency conference and also have a fair hearing later if it still does not agree with what the CalFresh office did. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(d)(1); MPP § 63-804.4.]

California has a “state” fair hearing system. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(b); Welf. & Inst. Code § 10950; MPP § 63-804.4.] Fair hearings are held by the State Hearings Division (SHD) of the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), the state agency that administers the CalFresh program. [Welf. & Inst. Code § 10950; MPP §§ 22-001.1; 22-004.2.] The hearing official, or administrative law judge (ALJ), is an impartial party who works for the state agency, not your local CalFresh office. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(m)(1); MPP § 22-001(a)(2) (Handbook).]

The household is entitled to get notice of the time, date and place of the hearing at least 10 days prior to the hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(l); MPP §§ 22-045.2-.3.] The household will also be notified of any legal services or legal aid available that can provide representation at the hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(i)(1); MPP § 22-073.232(c).] The applicant or recipient may also review its case file prior to the hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(l)(4); MPP § 22-051.]

After requesting a hearing, the case will be assigned to a county representative who will develop the case and will present the county’s side of the story to the ALJ at the hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(m); Welf. & Inst. Code § 10954; MPP §§ 22-073.13; 22-073.3.] The county representative will review the case file and will speak with the eligibility worker and other county personnel. [MPP §§ 22-073.22.]

If the county representative finds that the county action was wrong, the representative can resolve the case with the household without the need for a hearing. [MPP § 22-073.231.] If the county representative concludes that the county action was correct, the county representative must prepare a position statement, explaining the county’s position on the issues. [Welf. & Inst. Code § 10952.5; MPP §§ 22-073.23, 22-073.25.] A copy of the position statement must be made available to the CalFresh household two business days before the hearing. [Welf. & Inst. Code § 10952.5; MPP § 22-073.253.]

Position statements can now be provided to the claimant in one of three ways: 1) secure electronic transmission at least two business days before the hearing, with the claimant’s permission, and if the agency can comply with state and federal electronic privacy laws, 2) first class mail with mailing early enough for the claimant to receive the position statement two business days before the hearing, or 3) paper copy available at the appropriate office of the county welfare department two business days before the hearing, with public or private agencies that are not part of the county welfare department mailing a paper copy of the position statement to the county early enough for the county welfare department to make it available at least two business days before the hearing.  [Welf. & Inst. Code § 10952.5, as amended effective January 1, 2017; ACL 17-21.]  If electronic transmission does not apply, the county can choose whether to mail the position statement or make it available at the county welfare department office, but the county should discuss with the claimant how the claimant would prefer to receive the position statement.  [Id.]  If the position statement is not provided timely. the household can postpone the hearing to a later date. [Welf. & Inst. Code § 10952.5; MPP § 22-073.253.]

The household must get a hearing and a written decision no later than 60 days after the household’s asking for the hearing. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(c)(1); Welf. & Inst. Code § 10954; MPP § 63-804.7. The state should hold and decide on hearings for migrant farm workers and other households that plan to leave the area before they go. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(i)(2; MPP § 22-045.21.]