Cutting Red Tape in the CalWORKs and Food Stamp Programs

A bill that would significantly reduce the paperwork burden for CalWORKs and food stamp recipients will be heard in the Assembly Human Services Committee next Tuesday. AB 1642 (Beall) would adopt “semi-annual reporting” for the CalWORKs and Food Stamp programs, which would generally allow recipients to maintain eligibility for six consecutive months before having to submit another form. Currently, California requires recipients to turn in paperwork every three months. As we pointed out in a recent report, moving from quarterly to semi-annual reporting would help reduce red tape and thereby increase participation in these vital safety-net programs.

California legislators have tried – and failed – to adopt semi-annual reporting in recent years. But this time is likely to be different. Last September, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) denied California’s request to continue operating its quarterly reporting system for food stamps for four more years. Instead, the USDA required the state to submit a plan outlining how it will convert to semi-annual reporting by October 2011. State officials responded in February with a plan to adopt semi-annual reporting for both food stamps and CalWORKs, but argued the change cannot be fully implemented until at least May 2013. AB 1642 envisions a faster timeline that would allow counties to implement semi-annual reporting for both CalWORKs and food stamps between July 2011 and July 2012.

The timing of implementation is just one of many issues that will need to be addressed as AB 1642 moves through the legislative process. Still, it’s nice to see legislators and the Governor moving in the same direction on an issue of critical importance to low-income Californians.

— Scott Graves

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