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55. Expedited (emergency) food stamps

Who can get expedited (emergency) food stamps?

General authority: 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(9); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(1); Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 18905.1, 18912, 18914; and MPP § 63-301.531. This section discusses the specific operation of “expedited services” within the Food Stamp Program. The term “emergency food stamps” is also used elsewhere in this Guide, loosely, to describe other options to replace food lost in special circumstances involving household misfortune or natural disasters. See the section about getting food assistance after a natural disaster or household misfortune for more details.

An applicant household with very low income and few resources may qualify for “expedited service,” commonly referred to as “emergency food stamps.” [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(1); MPP § 63-301.51.] In California, if an applicant qualifies for expedited service, she will get the food stamps no more than three calendar days after applying. [See Welf. & Inst. Code §; 18914(b), implementing 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(3)(i); MPP § 63-301.531(a) (conforming California regulation).] In other states, the general rule in the federal regulation allows states to take up to seven days to complete expedited service of food stamps. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i) (3) (i).]

There is a litany of court decisions upholding the enforceable right to expedited services. See, e.g., Aiken v. Obledo, 442 F. Supp. 628 (E.D. Cal. 1977); Robertson v. Jackson, 972 F.2d 529 (4th Cir. 1992); Reynolds v. Giuliani, 35 F. Supp. 2d 331 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); Southside Welfare Rights Org. v. Stangler, 156 F.R.D. 187 (W.D.Mo. 1993); Harley v. Lyng, 653 F. Supp. 266 (E.D. Pa. 1986): see also Haskins v. Stanton, 621 F. Supp. 622 (N.D. Ind. 1985), aff’d, 794 F.2d 1273 (7th Cir. 1986); Harrington v. Blum, 483 F. Supp. 1015 (S.D.N.Y. 1979); aff’d, ___ F.2d ___ (2d Cir. 1980).

The household will qualify for expedited service if:

  • it has less than $150 in gross monthly income and has $100 or less in “liquid resources.” [MPP § 63-301.51; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(1)(i)] “Liquid resources” are cash, checking or savings accounts, savings certificates, and lump sum payments such as income tax refunds or back payments of social security or CalWORKs; or
  • its monthly housing costs (rent or mortgage, and the standard utility allowance) for the month are more than the sum of its liquid resources and gross income for the month. [MPP § 63-301.513; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(1)(iii)] Note: Since homeless individuals cannot afford housing, they all should qualify for expedited services.

If eligible, the household will get expedited food stamps for the month of application and possibly for the next month as well. [MPP § 63-301.543-.544.] If the household applies after the 15th of the month, and qualifies for expedited services, it will get food stamps for the following month, also. MPP § 63-301.546. ACL 08-39 clarifies the regulation, stating that the 2nd month’s stamps will be issued, whether verification is provided or postponed (amended regulation pending).

In determining whether a household qualifies for expedited service, states must permit households to claim the standard utility allowance (SUA). See 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(1)(iii); Harley v. Lyng. 653 F. Supp. 266 (E.D. Pa. 1986); Preamble to Final Regulations, 58 Fed. Reg. 58448 (Nov. 1, 1993). See also, Steve Shapiro & David Super, “USDA Expands Eligibility for Emergency Food Stamps,” 24 Clearinghouse Review 683 (Nov. 1990).

Migrant and seasonal farm workers are eligible

Migrant or seasonal farm workers can also qualify for expedited service under the special rules recognizing discontinued sources of income these workers face:

Procedure for expedited service

A household must apply for food stamps to get expedited service. Some food stamp offices do not always give people expedited service when they should, so if the applicant might qualify, advocates should advise them to ask for expedited service.

The food stamp office must inform the applicant household about the availability of expedited service and talk with the applicant household the day it applies to see if expedited service is needed. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(2); Welf. & Inst. Code § 18912; MPP § 63-301.52.] The county is required to notify all applicants for food stamps, orally and in writing, of the right to expedited food stamps and how to apply. [MPP § 62-301.521; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(b)(vi).] The first page of the application identifies households needing expedited food stamps. [MPP § 63-301.522.] Applicants do not need to fill out the full application to get reviewed for expedited food stamps. They are permitted to fill out just the one-page screening form. [ACIN I-11-07] The county must also process mailed applications indicating a need for expedited services within the three-day processing time. [MPP § 63-301.532.]

Federal law requires the food stamp office process all applications, not just most of them, on time. See, e.g., Robertson v. Jackson, 766 F. Supp. 470 (E.D. Va. 1991), aff’d 972 F. 2d 529 (4th Cir. 1992). A heavy caseload does not justify the food stamp office’s delay. See Tompkins v. Dempsey, 293 N. W.2d 771 (Mich. App. 1980). If a state agency fails to comply with federal rules for handling cases, a court can order changes in the agency’s operations, including maximum caseloads and detailed case processing timetable. See Urbina v. Quern, 482 F. Supp. 1013 (N.D. Ill. 1980).

Regardless of the answers the household provides about its income and resources, if the household completes the expedited services section of the application the food stamp office must immediately start processing the application. [MPP § 63-301.522; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(2)] If the county does not identify the household for expedited food stamps but later becomes aware that the household is entitled, the county must process the household for expedited service within three days of the discovery. [MPP § 63-301.533; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(3)(iv).]

An authorized representative (such as a friend or relative) can apply for expedited food stamps on behalf of a household. [MPP § 63-300.3; 7 C.F.R § 273.2(n).] Households may be able to have a phone interview or an interview in their home, if unable to come to the food stamp office. [MPP § 63-301.532; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(e).]

There is no limit to the number of times a household can get approved (“certified”) for emergency food stamps, as long as prior to each emergency application the household either completes previously postponed verification or has been certified under normal procedures since the last expedited certification. [MPP § 63-301.548; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(iv)]

“Verification” needed for expedited service

If the household qualifies for expedited service, the only real “verification” needed for the first month is a piece of identification. All other verification requirements are subject to exemption or postponement, described below.

In any event, in practice once the household meets the eligibility criteria, it typically will have to comply with three immediate “verification” requirements to actually get the expedited food stamps:

  1. proof of identity
  2. work registration
  3. finger imaging

After the first allotment of food stamps, the household must also comply with the social security number requirements and other outstanding verification demands of the food stamp office..

Verifying identity

As part of the “identification” process, the food stamp office will also ask for something that shows where the applicant lives. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(i)(B), (f)(1)(vi); MPP § 63-301.541(b), 300.51(e).] An applicant does not have to have any fixed or permanent residence to get expedited food stamps. If there is not any proof of residence, or any other verification, the food stamp office must still give the household expedited food stamps as long as the applicant has some I.D.

If the household qualifies for expedited service, the only verification needed for the first month is a piece of identification. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(i)(A); MPP § 63-301.541(a).] Only the individual person who makes the food stamp application — not the whole “household” — must verify his or her identity. [MPP § 63-301.541(a) and (c); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(i)(A).] The proof of identity can be a driver’s license, a voter registration card, a library card or any other document that proves who the person is. If this I.D. is not readily available, the food stamp office must try to call someone (such as a friend, a relative, or a worker at a shelter or other agency) to check the applicant’s identity. [MPP § 63-301.54, 300.542; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(ii), (f)(4)(ii)] The verification can be turned in in-person or through an “authorized representative” (AR). [MPP § 63-300.5(i)] If verifying through an authorized representative, the AR will also need to provide his or her own identification. [MPP § 63-300.5(e)(3); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(f)(1)(C)(vii).]

Work registration

Households found eligible for expedited food stamps will also need to register for work, but verification of questionable exemptions from work registration can be postponed if it would interfere with the three-day delivery time frame. [MPP § 63-301.541(d); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(B).].

Finger imaging

As of January 1, 20101, California will no longer require Statewide Fingerprint Imaging System (SFIS).  See ACL 11-83.  Although this is still a requirement for CalWORKs, CalFresh and expedited benefits cannot be delayed or denied for a SFIS failure in the cash aid program.

Social security number

Households can get their first food stamps allotment without the members verifying their social security numbers (SSN). [MPP § 63-404.2; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(B).] After the first allotment, however, all members of the household must verify their SSNs. All household members must either provide their SSN, verify that they applied, have good cause to not apply, or be exempt (e.g., fleeing human trafficking, domestic abuse or other serious crimes). [MPP § 63-404.1.] Good cause is set forth at MPP § 63-404.5; exemptions from the SSN number requirements are described in ACL 07-45 and 07-45E. (See the section about social security number requirements for more details.)

Other verification requirements

While applicants should verify as many other factors (income, resources, social security number, immigrant status) as are practicable, the food stamp office cannot deny or delay expedited service due to lack of this other verification. Counties must “reasonably” attempt to obtain all the other verification needed for the full certification through documentary evidence or collateral contacts, but cannot hold up the expedited food stamps processing to get it. [MPP § 63-301.541(b); 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(B).]

Deadlines for issuing expedited food stamps

California county welfare departments are free to process expedited food stamps sooner than three days. For example, per county policy, in Los Angeles the deadline is same-day delivery.  Counties could issue EBT cards that are not loaded, so that if/when approved, the benefit can be immediately available without making the household wait for the mail or make another trip to the county office.

If the household qualifies, in California the food stamp office must provide the expedited food stamps no later than three calendar days after the application date. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(3)(i); MPP § 63-301.531.] For the details of how to count the days, especially with mail and on-line applications, see ACIN I-14-11 and the Errata to it, ACIN I-14-11E. In most counties, the food stamp office will ask the person to come in to pick up the expedited issuance and (new) EBT card. (See the section about the Electronic Benefits Transfer system for more information about EBT cards.) The county can mail the EBT card if it makes sure that the household can get the card within three calendar days. The food stamp office must get the food stamps to the applicant within three days even if the third day is a weekend or holiday. (For example, if the person applies on a Wednesday and qualifies for expedited service, the food stamp office must have the food stamps available by that Friday (if the food stamp office is closed on Saturday). [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(3)(i); MPP § 63-301.531 (a)(1).] In California, the weekend counts as one day. [MPP § 63-301.531 (a)(1).]

If a person applies for food stamps after the 15th of the month, who are entitled to receive expedited services, must be issued the first and second months’ allotments even when verification is postponed. ACL 08-39.

The Food Stamp Act says that any applicant household that qualifies for expedited service should get food stamps within seven calendar days. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e) (9). A fair reading of this section would be that a household that becomes eligible for expedited service while its application is being processed should get its food stamps within seven calendar days of when the household becomes eligible for expedited service. See, e.g., litany of representative court decisions listed above.

If an applicant doesn’t qualify for expedited food stamps, then the office will process the application in the regular way, which can take up to 30 calendar days. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(g)(1), 272.2 (i)(4)(v); MPP § 63-301.1.]

Authorized representatives and homebound applicants

Expedited service stamps are available even if an authorized representative, such as a friend or relative, applies on behalf of the applicant. Home bound applicants can get expedited service through a phone interview or an interview. If a phone interview is done, the county that same day must mail the application for the person to sign. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(c)(2)(i); MPP § 63-300.34.] Then the deadline for the expedited stamps is no later than three calendar days after the food stamp office received the signed application. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(3)(iii); MPP § 63-301.532.]

Receiving ongoing food stamp benefits after expedited service

After someone gets expedited food stamps, the person will need to submit all necessary verification to get continuing benefits. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(iii), MPP §63-301.545.] The food stamp office will send a notice asking for the delayed verification. [7 C.F.R. § 273.10(g)(1)(i)(B), MPP §63-301.545(a), MPP §63-504.223.] If it is not turned in, then the food stamp office will send a new notice of action terminating benefits. [MPP §63-504.267(e)(i).] Once terminated, the person must reapply.

There is no limit to the number of times a household may be certified under expedited procedures, so long as prior to each certification the household either completes previously postponed verification or has been certified under normal procedures since the last expedited certification. [7 C.F.R. § 273.2(i)(4)(iv); MPP § 63-301.548.]

“Notice of Action” and fair hearing rights for denials of expedited service

The county should send a written notice deny expedited food stamps, so households can ask for an agency conference or an expedited fair hearing. MPP § 22-071.12. Households denied expedited services have the right to an “agency conference” (i.e., a meeting with a supervisor that is less formal than a “fair hearing” before an administrative law judge) within two days. MPP § 63-804.4; 7 C.F.R. § 273.15(d)(1). The household can also request an expedited hearing, regardless whether it had an agency conference. County Appeals Letter (1/19/04).

The food stamp office must provide a written notice of action denying the expedited food stamps. [MPP §63-504.23; MPP § 22-071.12.] If the applicant is denied and does not agree with the food stamp office’s decision not to give expedited service, there is a right to an “agency conference” (i.e., a meeting with a supervisor that is less formal than a “fair hearing” before an administrative law judge) within two days. [7 C.F.R. § 273.15(d)(1)-(2); MPP § 63-804.4.] The person also has the right to request a formal fair hearing regardless whether the person had an agency conference or not. [Id.]

In California, the household also has the right to ask for an expedited fair hearing, since it has been denied “emergency benefits.” [California Department of Social Services, All County Appeals Letter – Expedited State Hearings (January 19, 2004).] That said, an “expedited” hearing may still take several weeks to schedule, since the county must provide 10-day advance written notice, in the absence of a waiver by the applicant.