Once I’m enrolled in CalFresh, what rules must I follow to stay eligible?

Purchase requirements: You can only use CalFresh benefits to buy food. You can’t use CalFresh benefits to buy any non-food items such as alcoholic beverages, tobacco, household cleaning supplies, toiletries, or cosmetics, and you can’t exchange CalFresh benefits for money. If you sell your CalFresh benefits or use them for non-food items, you can be charged with fraud and you could be banned from receiving CalFresh and other food benefits for life.

Time Limits: Typically, every able-bodied adult (ages 18-49) without dependents in your household is limited to 3 months of aid in a 36-month period unless you are working at least 20 hours per week; participating in an approved work activity; OR doing workfare.[1513] But California HAS WAIVED this requirement through September 30, 2015, due to California’s high unemployment rate.[1514]

Work Requirements: As a CalFresh recipient, your county may require you to participate in an Employment and Training program, unless your county is listed as a “Labor Surplus Area” (LSA). An LSA is a county that, during the last two years, has had an unemployment rate of 20% or more above the national average. Right now, all counties are expected to be listed as LSAs until December 2016. Additionally, if you are employed, but choose to leave your job, and apply for or receive CalFresh benefits, you can’t get CalFresh for 3 months.

Report Requirements: Most CalFresh households must submit a report, called a Semi-Annual Income Eligibility Report (SAR 7) every six months.[1515] Additionally, they must immediately report a change in address, any changes in employment, changes in people who live with the family, and anytime their income goes over the Interim Report Threshold. Failure to report within the time limits could result in an Intentional Program Violation (IPV) (IPVs explained on PG. 455).

Recertification requirements: When you first enroll in CalFresh, your enrollment will only last for a limited time called a “certification period.” This is usually one year, but in some cases it’s only a few months. If you want to get CalFresh for longer than that, then before this period ends, you must apply for recertification—that is, prove that you’re still eligible for CalFresh. Before the first day of the last month of your certification period, the county should send you a “Notice of Expiration” (NOE) that says when, where, and how to apply for recertification. If your certification period is 1-2 months, the county must give you a NOE at the start of your certification period.[1516]

IMPORTANT: To keep getting CalFresh without interruption, apply for recertification on or before the 15th day of the last month of your certification period; For example, if your 1-year certification period runs April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015, you must recertify BEFORE March 15, 2015. Please note: If your certification period has expired and your recertification application has been delayed, and your household has very little income, check to see if you qualify for “expedited services” (ES) CalFresh (read more on PG. 454). If so, you may be able to get recertified for CalFresh benefits in just 3 days.


  1. 1513

    Exceptions: M.P.P. § 63-407.21(b)-(f); 63-406.1; see Eligibility and Issuance Requirements, Cal. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., http://www.calfresh.ca.gov/PG841.htm, http://foodstamPGuide.org/work-requirements-overview/.

  2. 1514

    Eligibility and Issuance Requirements, Cal. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., http://www.calfresh.ca.gov/PG841.htm.

  3. 1515

    To view a copy of the SAR 7 form, please visit: http://www.dss.cahwnet.gov/cdssweb/entres/forms/English/SAR7.pdf.

  4. 1516

    7 C.F.R. 273.14(b); M.P.P. § 63-504.61(a); Overview of the Application Process: CalFresh Handbook, Cal. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., http://www.cdss.ca.gov/calfreshoutreach/res/Toolkit/Handbook-GeneralMarket/GeneralMarketHandbook_CH5_OverviewoftheApplicationProcess.pdf.