On October 12, 2017, Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill 380, creatively titled CalWORKs: child support. This article will be pretty technical in nature, so for those of you working with aided participants, read on! For those of you wanting to expand your understanding of the inter-related nature of public assistance and child support, read on! For those of you suffering from insomnia, read on! You never know, it might help. For everyone else, I hope the following article is both helpful and informative. Buckle in, keep your hands and arms inside, and let’s take a ride.
Effective November 1, 2018, this law will enable a CalWORKs applicant or recipient to exclude stepsiblings or half-siblings of an eligible child from the number of needy persons in the same assistance unit (AU) for purposes of determining maximum aid payment (MAP) for that family. In lieu of CalWORKs cash aid for the stepsibling or half-sibling, the applicant or recipient would be able to directly receive any monthly child support collections. The family would still be eligible for a disregard and any cash aid for the child remaining on aid.
So, this law is giving CalWORKs applicants or recipients, in mixed-family scenarios, the ability to decide if they want those step children or half-siblings to be included in the AU and be eligible for CalWORKs cash aid or if they would prefer to instead receive the child support collections directly. To qualify, a stepsibling or half-sibling must live with at least one eligible child receiving CalWORKs. The stepsibling or half-sibling is a child for whom child support payments are received and the monthly child support payments received for the child must be greater than the monthly amount of aid that the child would have received had they not been excluded from the grant. Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) ran a query of the statewide caseload and anticipates approximately 4,300 existing cases could qualify. This law affects currently aided families and CalWORKs applicants as they come into the program, so potential case figures will fluctuate.
Any child support payments received directly by the family for the child as a result of the new law are excluded from consideration as income in determining eligibility or grant amounts for the remainder of the AU. The child who is removed from the AU remains eligible for Medi-Cal and CalFresh program benefits. Make sense? Good. Now, how’s that all going to work?
Several local child support agency (LCSA) representatives have been participating on a workgroup made up of members from Department of Social Services (CDSS), DCSS, and the automation systems for both to work through how this new law will be implemented. CDSS is required to notify all applicants for assistance of this new law change. Draft letters are being developed and reviewed by the workgroup. DCSS will also be communicating with customers regarding the new law change.
This new law isn’t mandatory. A CalWORKs applicant or recipient can have the option to continue to receive CalWORKs cash aid for all of the children in the AU. If they wish to exclude a stepsibling or half-sibling, they must submit their request in writing. The County Welfare Department (CWD) will work with the CalWORKs applicants or recipients to make a determination of eligibility. To do so, the worker will need to know amounts of child support collected each month on behalf of the stepsibling or half-sibling. Currently, monthly statements from CSE do not provide detail of child support collections at the child level.
To determine how much child support was collected on behalf of an individual child, the CalWORKs applicant or recipient will need to share with their CWD worker their child support order and then review monthly statements to determine if the child support received on behalf of the stepsibling or half-sibling exceeds the portion of the monthly cash aid they would have received. To be able to do this, the child support order must reflect monthly child support obligations allocated per child versus an unallocated lump sum. If the child support order is unallocated, then the CalWORKs applicant or recipient will have to request a modification of their child support order to allocate the monthly child support obligation per child.
CDSS is recommending the CWD worker review monthly statements and notes they may be unable to make a determination if inadequate documentation is provided. Ultimately, the worker will be looking for consistent child support payments over a period of time so as to be reasonably sure that the family will not be negatively impacted by opting-out a stepsibling or half-sibling.
Once a child has been excluded from the AU under the SB 380 rule, the child can only be added back into the AU:
- When the Semi-Annual Report (SAR 7) is due;
- When the AU’s Annual Redetermination is due;
- When the CalWORKs applicant or recipient voluntarily reports mid-period that the child support payments have decreased or ended, and they request the child be added back to the AU.
So, what are some of the challenges that may arise from this new law change? Education of customers and our partners. Due to a current lack of automated solutions, this process will be manual initially. Child Support customers may be able to get copies of their orders and payment histories through Customer Connect, but helping them and our partners at the CWD to understand the documents will be a critical role for our staff.
Unallocated orders may also be a challenge when they originated through dissolution or are from other states. Not all LCSAs establish allocated orders, but the allocation at the child level will be necessary for this process. So, you may see an increase in requests for modification and that may have an impact on your courts. Lastly, system functionality for identifying child(ren) who have been excluded from the assistance unit is something DCSS and LCSA staff are currently working on. There is also discussion in the workgroup of how to improve the automation related to this process.
With the November 1, 2018, implementation date fast approaching, we are working to address many of these challenges and give recommendations on how to process these cases in your county. We will be sharing updates on our progress for this effort through the CSDA Policy, Program and Regulations Committee.