BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                               Senator McGuire, Chair
                                2015 - 2016  Regular 

          Bill No:              SB 312
          |Author:   |Pan                                                   |
          |Version:  |February 23, 2015      |Hearing    |April 21, 2015   |
          |          |                       |Date:      |                 |
          |Urgency:  |No                     |Fiscal:    |Yes              |
          |Consultant|Mareva Brown                                          |
          |:         |                                                      |
                  Subject:  Public assistance:  personal interviews

          This bill would authorize the county welfare department to  
          conduct a required personal interview with an applicant for  
          CalWORKs benefits either telephonically or through electronic  
          means, if the county welfare department determines that such an  
          interview would be more efficient. The bill would also delete a  
          cross-reference to an obsolete section of statute.

          Existing law:

             1)   Establishes in state law the CalWORKs program to provide  
               cash assistance and other social services for low-income  
               families through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy  
               Families (TANF) program. Under CalWORKs, each county  
               provides assistance through a combination of state, county  
               and federal TANF funds. (WIC 10530)

             2)   Prohibits an applicant for CalWORKs from being granted  
               assistance until he or she is first personally interviewed  
               by the office of the county welfare department or by state  
               staff for patients in state hospitals. (WIC 11052.5)

             3)   Requires the personal interview to be conducted promptly  
               following the application for assistance. If an applicant  


          SB 312 (Pan)                                              PageB  
               is incapable of acting in his or her own behalf, the county  
               department shall verify this fact by personal contact with  
               the applicant before aid is authorized. (WIC 11052.5)

             4)   Establishes under federal law the Supplemental Nutrition  
               Assistance Program (SNAP) within the US Department of  
               Agriculture (USDA) to promote the general welfare and to  
               safeguard the health and wellbeing of the nation's  
               population by raising the levels of nutrition among  
               low-income households. It establishes SNAP eligibility  
               requirements, including income that is at or below 130  
               percent of the federal poverty level and is determined to  
               be a substantial limiting factor in permitting a recipient  
               to obtain a more nutritious diet (7 CFR 271.1; 7 CFR 273.9)

             5)   Establishes in California statute the CalFresh program  
               to administer the provision of federal SNAP benefits to  
               families and individuals meeting specified criteria. (WIC  
               18900 et seq.)

             6)   Establishes in CalFresh statute the option for a county  
               welfare department to exempt an applicant for food benefits  
               from complying with face-to-face interview requirements for  
               purposes of determining eligibility at initial application  
               and recertification. (WIC 18901.1) 

          This bill:

             1)   Names this bill the County Option of Efficient  
               Interviewing of CalWORKs Applicants Act of 2015.

             2)   Deletes an obsolete reference to an amended section of  
               statute, per legislative counsel.

             3)   Permits a county welfare department to conduct an  
               applicant's required personal interview by telephone or  
               through electronic means if the county welfare department  
               determines that method will be more efficient.

            FISCAL IMPACT
          This bill has not been analyzed by a fiscal committee.



          SB 312 (Pan)                                              PageC  
          Purpose of the bill:

          According to the author, counties that have set up the  
          infrastructure to do telephone interviews for CalFresh, or food  
          stamp, applicants should have the option to do the same for  
          CalWORKs applicants if it would achieve administrative  
          efficiency. The author also states that telephone interviews  
          would be beneficial to beneficiaries who live in rural  
          California, where the cost of transportation to an in-person  
          interview can be burdensome. 

          California has the highest poverty rate of any state in the  
          nation, with nearly one-quarter of residents living at or below  
          the federal poverty level (FPL) according to the national  
          Supplemental Poverty Measure. A family of three living at the  
          FPL earns no more than $20,090 per year. During and after the  
          Great Recession, California saw growing rates of deep poverty -  
          those living below 50 percent of the federal poverty line. 

          Additionally, 26.3 percent of young children - aged 6 or younger  
          - were below poverty under the recently created California  
          Poverty Measure that is calculated by researchers at Stanford  
          and the Public Policy Institute of California. While  
          California's child poverty rate is much worse than the national  
          average, there are pockets of poverty within this state where  
          children are especially needy. In 2013, researchers found that  
          Merced County had a childhood poverty rate of 40.6 percent,  
          while more than one in three children in Fresno, Kern, Tulare,  
          Lake, and Mendocino counties live below the poverty line.<1>  
          California's young children are at the greatest risk: More than  
          11 percent of young children statewide experienced deep poverty  
          in 2013, according to research provided by Stanford University's  
          poverty center. The Stanford researchers found that rates of  
          deep poverty grew most steeply among young children during and  
          after the Great Recession.

          <1> Bohn, Sarah and Matt Levin, "Child Poverty in California,"  
          Public Policy Institute of California, August 2013.


          SB 312 (Pan)                                              PageD  

          TANF and CalWORKs
          One of California's most essential anti-poverty strategies is  
          the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids  
          program (CalWORKs), which provides state and federal cash  
          assistance to approximately 540,000 families, including more  
          than 1 million children. A grant to a family of three in a  
          high-cost California county currently is $704 per month, or  
          approximately 42 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). In  
          1989, a similar grant was worth about  81 percent of FPL, and 55  
          percent in 1997. 

          The CalWORKs program is funded through a combination of state  
          funds and a fixed federal block grant through the federal  
          Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. The TANF  
          program, created through the Personal Responsibility and Work  
          Opportunity Reconciliation Act or PRWORA (42 U.S.C. 601),  
          permits recipients to receive aid for up to 60 months. The  
          program was designed to give states flexibility in setting  
          eligibility and guidelines. Under PRWORA, as long as states meet  
          maintenance of effort requirements and adhere to federal work  
          participation requirements, they receive federal funding.  
          California's CalWORKs statute has been revised repeatedly over  
          the last decade and most notably in response to the state's  
          fiscal crisis during the Great Recession. Currently, a recipient  
          may remain on aid for 48 months so long as during the last 24 of  
          those months the participant is meeting strict federal work  
          requirements. An array of services and supports is designed to  
          identify and address any individual challenges clients face  
          during the first 24 months. 

          The USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)  
          funds 100 percent of food benefits to eligible households  
          nationwide. California, its 58 counties and the federal  
          government share the cost of administering the program, which is  
          known as CalFresh. Specific eligibility requirements are set by  
          the USDA, including gross- and net-income asset tests for most  
          recipients, work requirements and specific documentation  
          requirements. Approximately 4.4 million Californians receive  
          CalFresh benefits, according to USDA data. Many CalWORKs  
          participants also receive CalFresh benefits.


          SB 312 (Pan)                                              PageE  

          Use of telephone interviews
          Under a federal USDA waiver<2> and under current regulatory  
          requirements,<3> California's county human services agencies  
          have the option to allow CalFresh applicants to satisfy the  
          interview requirement over the telephone rather than mandating a  
          face-to-face interview. CDSS instructed counties in February  
          2014<4> that they were permitted to complete a telephone  
          interview without having an applicant schedule an appointment by  
          calling a county call center or other number specified by the  
          county. The applicant also has the option of scheduling  
          appointments or requesting an accommodation, if they have  
          special needs. 

          Yet the use of a telephonic interview is not permitted in the  
          CalWORKs program. Per CDSS guidance, if an applicant is applying  
          for both programs together, which is common, county human  
          services agencies must conduct the interview in person, to  
          comply with CalWORKs state law and regulation.<5> 

          Efficiencies within the TANF program

          A research paper prepared for the US Administration on Children  
          and Families in 2014 focused on state's efforts to serve TANF  
          recipients in the wake of significant cuts to grants, program  
          staff and constricted job opportunities nationwide. The  
          researchers surveyed 30 states, including California, and found,  
          among other things, that states had made explicit efforts to  
          reduce program costs in part by reducing administrative and  
          program staffing. In California that included furloughs and  
          unfilled vacancies. Even with an improving economy, most states  
          still struggle with fewer staff and less to offer poor  
          participants. The researchers identified five strategies to  
          improve TANF programs, including use of more efficient business  
          <2> USDA Food and Nutrition Services Waiver #2130007,  
          implemented August 1, 2013.
          <3> US 7 CFR 273.2(e)(3) and California Manual of Policies and  
          Procedures Section 63-300.46
          <4> CDSS All County Letter # 14-20, February 27, 2014
          <5> Manuals of Policies and Procedures 40-131; CDSS All County  
          Information Notice I-15-03, March 28, 2003 


          SB 312 (Pan)                                              PageF  

               Improving the efficiency of business processes could help  
               agencies engage TANF recipients more quickly and  
               consistently or could free up funds which could then be  
               re-invested in other TANF services.<6>
          Related legislation
          SB 297 (McGuire 2015) would require CDSS to establish an  
          electronic signature storage hub to enable counties to record  
          telephonic and electronic signatures during a CalFresh  

          AB 1970 (Skinner, 2012) would have permitted counties to use  
          electronic methods of communication for the application and  
          recertification processes in CalWORKs and CalFresh, and would  
          have established alternatives to in-person interviews for  
          applications and redeterminations. It died in the Senate  
          Appropriations Committee.  

          The author is seeking to align CalWORKs interviewing  
          requirements with those existing in the CalFresh program, which  
          currently requires that county human services agencies use a  
          telephonic verification, unless certain circumstances exist.  
          Staff recommends the following amendments to clarify the bill's  
          11052.5. (a) An applicant shall not be granted public assistance  
          under Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 11200) until he or she  
          is first personally interviewed by the office of the county  
           welfare department  human services agency or state staff for  
          patients in state hospitals. The personal interview shall be  
          conducted promptly following the application for assistance  .   The  
          county welfare department   may conduct the personal interview   and  
          may be conducted  by telephone or through electronic means.  If  
          the county welfare department determines that a personal  
          interview by telephone or electronic means will be more  
          <6> Brown, Elizabeth and Michelle Derr, "Serving TANF Recipients  
          in a Post-Recession Environment," Mathematica     Policy  
          Research  on behalf of the Office of Planning, Research and  
          Evaluation (OPRE) in the US Administration for Children and  
          Families, February 2015


          SB 312 (Pan)                                              PageG  
          efficient  . If an applicant is incapable of acting in his or her  
          own behalf, the county  welfare department  human services agency  
           shall verify this fact by personal contact with the applicant  
          before aid is authorized. As used in this section, the term  
          public assistance does not include health care as provided by  
          Chapter 7 (commencing with Section 14000).

          (b) The interview conducted pursuant to this section shall occur  
          within seven days after the time of application unless there are  
          extenuating circumstances that justify further delay.

           (c) A face-to-face interview shall be conducted if requested by  
          an applicant or recipient.

                    Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations  
               (Sponsor - Support)
                    Western Center on Law and Poverty (Sponsor- Support)

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