Work rules and requirements

Summary of basic work requirements

33 counties have voluntary CalFresh Employment and Training Programs for fiscal year 2017.  Participation in these programs is currently voluntary.  No counties have mandatory Employment and Training Programs.  [See ACL 20-10.]  A recipient cannot be sanctioned for failure to participate except for a comparable disqualification for failure to comply with CalWORKS Welfare-to-Work requirements.  [See Non-compliance with a work requirement.]  Work registration requirements are:

  • Register for work at application, and every 12 months after initial registration.  Counties can take responsibility for the work registration process;
  • Participate in CalFresh Employment and Training (E&T) programs, if mandatorily assigned by the county;
  • Participate in any non-voluntary assigned workfare program;
  • Accept a referral or offer of suitable employment;
  • Not voluntarily quit, without good cause, a job of 30 or more hours a week, or reduce work effort to less than 30 hours a week.

[MPP § 63-407.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(1).]

There are county penalties for work registrants who do not accept offers of employment. [ACIN I-01-13.] There are also sanctions for non-compliance with work requirements, and for voluntarily quitting a job, unless the individual has good cause.

Certain adults without minor children (so-called ABAWDs) have a very short, time-limited period for CalFresh assistance unless they are working or in a work program.  [See Work programs for people subject to ABAWD requirements.] However, if subject to these limits, there are specific rules for regaining eligibility for CalFresh benefits.

All household members subject to work requirements must be advised of available employment and training services.  [Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) § 4005.]

Registering for work

The counties are responsible for the work registration process.  [CalFresh E & T Handbook 2022 at p.9.]  As part of the initial application and recertification interview, counties must determine which individuals in the household are work registrants. Everyone who gets CalFresh benefits must register for work at application and every 12 months thereafter unless they are exempt. [MPP § 63-407.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(i); ACL 20-10.] In California, this is a seamless process that happens at application or recertification, or if a change occurs so that the recipient loses an exemption or deferral. The county registers the individual by entering them into the data system. There are no forms or other steps the applicant/recipient must take.  [ACIN I-01-13.]

People applying for expedited (emergency) CalFresh benefits must also register, but if the registration is questionable the county is not to delay issuing emergency CalFresh benefits to verify that fact. [MPP § 63-301.541(d); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(4)(i)(B).] People who are in General Assistance (GA) work programs, public assistance or CalWORKs work programs, the Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP), the Unpaid Community Service and Work Experience program are considered registered for work. [MPP § 63-407.23-.24.]

The County is required to explain the work registration requirements. [MPP § 63-407.3.]

CalFresh Employment and Training programs

Enrollment and participation in the CalFresh Employment and Training (E & T) program are voluntary for eligible CalFresh recipients.  [CalFresh E & T Handbook 2022 at p.8; ACL 23-34.] CalFresh recipients are not required to enroll in the CalFresh Employment and Training Program to keep their CalFresh benefits.  [Id.]  Participants cannot be sanctioned for failure to participate in CalFresh Employment and Training or for not meeting program requirements if they do participate.  [Id.]

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has left it to county discretion whether the county will have an E&T program and to develop criteria for participation. [MPP § 63-407.8; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(e).] Counties are responsible for screening and referral of all CalFresh applicants and recipients to the CalFresh Employment and Training program as part of the certification process. [ACL 23-34.]  If an individual was not screened or referred to CalFresh employment and training during certification, the individual or the employment and training program can ask the county to complete a screening and referral.  [Id.] Under SB 43 (2011), a county that elects to participate in CalFresh E&T program, is required to screen CalFresh work registrants for deferrals. [See MPP § 63-407.811.]

Counties can create additional deferrals beyond those in the E&T regulations, such as a deferral based on homelessness. The additional bases for deferrals must be in the county E&T plan. If deferred, the person can still participate as a voluntary participant. Adding to the regular list of exemptions, SB 43 also includes deferrals based upon living in a “work surplus area” (read, “high unemployment area”).

In California, the following programs are included in CalFresh E&T:

  • Job search requirements
  • Job search training programs
  • Workfare (see below)
  • Work experience programs
  • Job training
  • Educational programs
  • Self-employment programs
  • Job search training
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) activities
  • Self-employment training
  • Job retention for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 90 days.  [Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) § 4005]
  • Subsidized employment
  • Apprenticeships [Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) § 4005]

[See [MPP § 63-407.841‘ 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(f)(1)(i)-(vii); ACL 18-11; and CalFresh E & T Handbook 2022 at pp. 11-20.]

Beginning in fiscal year 2022, counties that are providing CalFresh E & T services can offer subsidized employment as a work experience activity.  This means that wages can be paid to participants who engage in work experience and wage costs may be claimed as an allowable CalFresh E & T expense.  [ACL 21-48.]

E & T programs for veterans operated by the Department of Labor or the Department of Veterans Affairs and certified workforce partnerships are allowable work activities to satisfy the ABAWD work requirement.  [Id.]

Time spent in case management through E & T counts toward the ABAWD work requirement.  [Id.]

Cell-Ed online programs qualifies for CalFresh E & T time as education, supervised job search and vocational education.  [ACIN I-55-20.]   Cell-Ed participants can count 3 hours of homework time for each hour of time spent in a Cell-Ed course.  [ACWDL October 19, 2020.]

Participation requirements are set out at MPP § 63-407.83. The county can either assign someone to either a voluntary or a mandatory CalFresh E&T program. Individuals who are deferred may volunteer, but are not mandatory participants, and therefore not subject to sanction. Also, ACL 12-03 added new “deferral” criteria. Mandatory programs are required to provide a minimum of 12 hours per month, limits on job search, and a “minimum wage limit” on unpaid work.

The failure to comply with E&T without good cause will cause the non-complying, mandatory participant losing her CalFresh benefits. There are no repercussions for people who do not comply with a voluntary E&T program. [MPP § 63-407.86; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(e)(3)(ii).]

Counties and state partners can purchase necessary equipment for use by CalFresh E & T participants.  Equipment purchased by a county, state partner, or third-party partner may include laptops, cell phones, and other computer equipment to be loaned to participants for programs that require remote access such as distance learning. [ACL 20-125.]

Supportive services assist participants with overcoming barriers that prevent participation in CalFresh E & T.  Providers are required to pay directly or reimburse CalFresh E & T participants for expenses that are reasonable, necessary and directly related to participation upon presentation of appropriate documentation.  Reimbursable supportive services include dependent care costs, transportation, uniforms, personal safety items, books or training materials, and internet or telephone services. [Id.]  Supportive services can also include housing stability services for recipients who are at risk of eviction of homelessness.  [ACWDL, January 14, 2021.]  Federal reimbursement for subsidized housing is limited to no more than two months per year.  [Id.]

The county is required to provide reimbursement (or advance pay) for the actual costs of transportation and other E&T participation expenses that are “reasonable and necessary” and directly related to participation in the E&T program. [MPP § 63-407.831; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(d)(1)(iv)(3).] The counties must have a written policy about these support services. [MPP § 63-407.831(a)(2).] Reimbursement can include mileage and parking.

Counties must pay or reimburse participants for the actual cost of transportation and other actual costs that are reasonable and necessary for participation. While they can cap the level of payment or reimbursement, any cap should be based on reasonable participation expenses and cannot be set at zero or capped at an amount that does not cover basic transportation or other necessary expenses.

State agencies must reimburse applicants and volunteers for E&T participation expenses. Participants with expenses that exceed the state cap must be exempted from mandatory E&T participation. [7 C.F.R. § 273.7(d)(4)(v).] Recipients who are E&T workers are covered by workers compensation for Workfare, On-the-Job Training, and Work Experience assignment, through state coverage. [ACL 11-17.]

The 2018 Farm Bill provision requiring counties to consult with Local Workforce Development Boards when designing their E & T programs. Beginning in fiscal year 2022, counties may consult with private employers or employee organizations instead of Local Workforce Development Boards if they can demonstrate it is more effective or efficient.  [ACL 21-48.]

Effective October 1, 2021, E & T providers can make a determination that a participant is not a good fit for a particular E & T component.  If the providers makes this determination, the county must decide if the individual should continue to participate in E & T.  If the provider determines they have a more suitable placement, the county can either require the provider to refer to participant back to the county, or allow the provider to switch the individual to the other placement without a referral. [Id.]

When the county receives a determination that a participant is not a good fit, the county must, no later than the participants next recertification, either: refer the individual to another appropriate E & T component, refer the individual to a workforce partnership, reassess the physical and mental fitness of the individual, or coordinate with other workforce or assistance programs to identify other work opportunities or assistance. [Id.]

During COVID-19, consistent with public health guidance, personal protective equipment necessary to engage in CalFresh E & T, when not provided by an employer, is covered, including personal protective equipment, hard hats, non-slip shoes, cloth face coverings and protective gloves.  [ACL 20-125.]

All CalFresh E&T programs must provide case management services.  [CalFresh E & T Handbook 2022 at p.11.]  Case management may include comprehensive intake assessments, employability assessments, individualized service plans, progress monitoring, and coordination with service providers.


Workfare is when a recipient has to work without pay in order to get CalFresh benefits or some other public assistance. Counties can offer workfare as a component of its E&T program. The USDA must approve in advance of any workfare program. [MPP § 63-407.91; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m)(2)(iii).]

People assigned to workfare can be referred to work for a public or private, non-profit agency. [MPP § 63-407.91; 7 C.F.R. §§ 273.7 (m)(2)(iv) and 273.7(m)(3)(ii).] The county can run the workfare program itself or it can have some other public or private non-profit agency do so. [MPP § 63-407.91; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m)(3)(ii).] The program is intended to provide participants with “an opportunity to develop basic work habits or to practice existing skills,” and to improve employability and enable individuals to move into regular employment. [See MPP § 63-407.841(b); 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m).]

The number of workfare hours that can be assigned is limited by minimum wage. This is determined by dividing the household’s monthly CalFresh allotment by the state or local minimum wage or, if exempt from those laws, by the federal minimum wage. The highest applicable wage is used. [MPP §§ 63-407.24, 63-407.855; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m)(5)(B)(ii).]

There are special provisions for determining how to credit work, or offset an “overissuance” when the person has performed workfare and an overissuance of benefits occurs. [MPP § 63-407.89; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(m)(6)(v).]

Accepting a referral or offer of suitable employment

All non-exempt recipients must follow through on any county referrals to potential suitable employment. They also must accept any offer of suitable employment. [MPP § 63-407.43; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(1)(vi).] Suitability of referrals and employment is governed by MPP § 63-407.7; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(h).

Voluntary quit or reducing work effort

Unless exempt from work registration, CalFresh recipients may not, without good cause, voluntarily quit a job or reduce earning if the job is 30 or more hours a week, or the pay is equal to 30 hours at minimum wage. [MPP § 63-408.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(a)(1)(vii).] California imposes incremental penalties of one, three and six months, for first, second and subsequent voluntary quits. [MPP § 63-408.1; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(j)(1).]

If the “voluntary quit without good cause” occurred within 60 days of the application for CalFresh benefits, the county will deny the application for one, three, or six months. [MPP § 63-408.11; 7 C.F.R. § 273.7(j)(3).] The “quit” penalty is not imposed if the person quits, gets a new job and then subsequently loses the job through no fault of the recipient. [MPP § 63-408.112.] Ceasing self-employment is not considered a voluntary quit. [MPP § 63-408.111.]

“Good cause” includes:

  • Circumstances beyond the registrant’s control, such as illness, illness of another household member requiring the presence of the registrant, a household emergency, the unavailability of transportation, or problems caused by inability of the registrant to speak or write English;
  • Resigning from an unsuitable job (including one which illegally discriminates, imposes unreasonable work demands or schedules);
  • Acceptance by the individual of employment, or enrollment of at least half-time in any recognized school, training program or institution of higher education requiring the individual leave employment;
  • Acceptance by any other household member of employment or enrollment at least half-time in any recognized school, training program or institution of higher education in another county or state which requires the household to move, thereby requiring the work registrant to leave employment;
  • Resignations by persons under the age of 60 which are recognized by the employer as retirement;
  • Acceptance of a bona fide offer of employment of 30 hours or more a week or at the equivalent wage when, because of circumstances beyond the control of the individual, the job either does not materialize or results in fewer hours of employment;
  • Lack of adequate child care arrangements for a registrant’s children between six and 12 years old;
  • If the child is older than 13 but unable to be left alone because of an impairment or is under court supervision, the exemption would also apply since that is the standard for dependent care in CalFresh benefits.

[See MPP § 63-408.4.]

Deferrals from work requirements

Certain CalFresh recipients are deferred from work requirements, meaning they must register for work but are not required to participate.  Work registrants are deferred from participation if they are:

– Under age 18 or 50 years of age or older [ACL 12-03];

        – Living in a CalFresh household with a child under the age of 18, regardless of whether or not the child is receiving, or is eligible to receive, CalFresh benefits [ACL 12-03];
        – Living in a federally determined work surplus area;
        –  Lack of child care
        –  Lack of transportation
        –  Live an unreasonable distance from the work program site
       –  Have a severe family crisis
        – Veterans that have been honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces [ACL 13-107];
        – Victims of domestic violence.  Self-attestation by a victim is sufficient to establish domestic violence unless the CWD documents independent evidence which strongly suggests that the individual’s statement is not credible [ACL 17-30].
        –  Individuals subject to the ABAWD time limit.  [ACL 18-11.]
[MPP § 63-407.811.]
Individuals who are deferred are reevaluated no later than at each recertification.  [MPP § 63-407.813.]  Individuals who are deferred can volunteer to participate.  [MPP § 63-407.814.]  Note that additional categories of recipients are exempt from work requirements, meaning they do not need to register for work.