The 411 on Phone Interviews

California counties now have the option
of conducting telephone interviews for all households at initial CalFresh application and recertification in lieu of the face to face interview without notice of hardship.

CFPA Primary Contact

Alexis Fernandez
Nutrition Policy Advocate
Oakland Office
510.433.1122 ext. 111


Waiving the Face-to-Face Interview: What it Means for CA

Update: On October 6, 2011 Governor Brown signed AB 6 (Fuentes) The CalFresh Act of 2011. As a component of AB 6, the finger imaging requirement will be repealed for CalFresh households as of January 1st, 2012. Due to this significant improvement in CalFresh policy many of the "411 On Telephone Interview Materials" should be updated to reflect the change. The removal of the finger image requirement reduces client barriers to access and supports the use of telephone interviews  by eliminating the need to visit the office. If you are in need of any updated materials contact Alexis at 510.433.1122 x111 or

CalFresh participation has increased rapidly in California over the course of the recession, with nearly 2.9 million Californians currently receiving nutrition assistance benefits, resulting in a program that now feeds 1 in 12 Californians.  At the same time, only one-third of eligible working Californians receive nutrition assistance through CalFresh.

This low CalFresh participation means less for all Californians – less nutrition assistance for eligible households, less economic activity, and less sales tax revenue for the state and local governments. These losses can be mitigated by eliminating unnecessary barriers to food stamp participation, such as the face-to-face interview.

What do phone interviews mean for working families across the state?
This new policy is an opportunity to make nutrition assistance through CalFresh more accessible and convenient, particularly in this tough economic climate.  With only one-third of California's working poor enrolled in the program, phone interviews are a critical way to remove some of the barriers to receiving nutrition assistance.  Individuals and households may only need to make one visit to their local county office to complete the process and begin receiving benefits.  And this means that individuals and households are able to obtain a more nutritious diet while increasing their purchasing power.

What do phone interviews mean for the state of California?
As a state currently enrolling less than half of those eligible for CalFresh-the second worst participation rate in the nation, with an even worse participation rate among working poor-this new method of enrolling and retaining individuals in the program will help to increase the participation rate among eligible Californians.  In addition, when adopted by counties, this policy positions the state to join the national movement towards the modernization of CalFresh.

About Phone Interviews

The CalFresh interview serves two main purposes:

  1. One purpose is to acquaint the applicant with the program, to answer questions that applicant may have, and to inform applicants of their rights.
  2. The other purpose is to gather additional information to determine the household's eligibility for benefits.

Counties are required to schedule the interview "as promptly as possible to ensure eligible households receive an opportunity to participate within 30 days after the application is filed." MPP § 63-301.46; 7 C.F.R. § 273.2(e)(3).

The CalFresh interview can either occur in person-the "face-to-face interview"-or over the phone.  For some, the face to face interview is a convenient way to complete the food stamp application process; however, for many others it is a key barrier to completing the process.

Across the nation, almost half of all people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are in working households. In California, only 1/3 of low-income, working households participated in the CalFresh in 2007.  A broader offering of phone interviews gives California the opportunity to reach those working households who are newly eligible for nutrition assistance, increasing their overall purchasing power.


For several years, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Division of the USDA has been issuing waivers of the face-to-face interview for SNAP across the country as states were faced with high caseloads and low participation.  States have found that with phone interviews program participation began to increase and their caseloads became more manageable.  Error rates and incidents of fraud did not increase.

Given this, when the California Department of Social Services requested a waiver of the in-person interview for all households at both intake and recertification without the hardship required, FNS approved.  As a result, California counties now have the option of implementing this waiver and offering phone interviews to all households.

This means that California's working poor will be able to access and participate in the program, increasing their purchasing power, and stimulating economic activity in their county.

Maximizing the Opportunity of the Phone Interview
Beginning in October 2009, California Food Policy Advocates surveyed over 40 counties across California to get a sense how they plan on utilizing the opportunity of the phone interview.  Of the counties we surveyed, 60% have already or are planning to offer phone interviews without hardship to all households, while 28% are considering the option given their capacity.  In addition, we have interviewed administrators, researchers, and advocates from across the country compiling resources and lessons learned to implement a successful phone interview policy.

Through our research, we have found that conducting phone interviews in lieu of the face-to-face interviews offers counties some key opportunities:

  • Increased access to and participation in the Food Stamp Program by working families.
  • This policy is not dependent on advanced technologies or complex system changes.
  • A positive policy change in a year of tough economic times and budget cuts.

We developed this site to be a resource for administrators, program analysts, and advocates across California to support the implementation of this waiver. On this page, you will find:

  • Sample documents for integrating phone interviews into county processes and procedures;
  • Information about what's happening across the state with this waiver and across the country on phone interviews;
  • Frequently asked questions about phone interviews from a county administrators perspective;
  • Myths and facts about phone interviews gathered from lessons learned across the state and country;
  • Local actions that can be taken to urge counties to offer phone interviews for all households;  and,
  • Much more!


Sample Documents

  • Telphone Interview Training Materials

    Phone Interview Manual: Making the Process Work for You PDF
    Oregon Food Stamp Policy Unit, June 2009

    Telephone Etiquette/Telephone Interviewing and Listening Skills Training PDF
    Los Angeles County Department of Social Services, April 2009

    Working Families Food Stamp Initiative and Telephone Interviewing Curriculum PDF
    New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, March 2009

    Working Families Food Stamp Initiative and Telephone Training Diagram PDF
    New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, March 2009

  • Helpful Hints and Checklists

    Phone Interview Checklist PDF
    Food Stamp Policy Unit, Oregon Department of Human Services, June 2009

    Guidance for Verifying Identity PDF
    Food Stamp Policy Unit, Oregon Department of Human Services, June 2009

    Phone Interview Application Checklist PDF
    Massachusetts Dept. of Transitional Assistance

    Helpful Hints for Phone Interviews PDF
    Massachusetts Deptartment of Transitional Assistance

    Interview Checklist PDF
    New York State Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance

    Staff Information Sheet re: Verification Requirements PDF
    New York State Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance

    Phone Interview Tips for Eligibility Staff PDF
    Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare

    Suggestions for Phone Interviewing PDF
    Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance

  • Sample Forms and Notices

    Phone Interviews Information Form PDF
    Adapted from Alameda County Food Bank Interview Card

    Phone Interview Intake Preference Card PDF
    San Diego Hunger Coalition

    Food Stamp Recertification Interview Information Form PDF
    Food Stamp Policy Unit, Oregon Department of Human Services, June 2009

    Phone Interview SNAP/Cash Renewal Notice PDF
    New Mexico Human Services Department, Income Support Division

    Phone Interview Notice of Recertification for Food Stamps PDF
    New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance

    Phone Interview Courtesy Notice of Recertification for Food Stamps PDF
    New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance

  • Background Information

    Food Stamp Program Waiver of Face-to-Face Interview, ACL 09-62 PDF
    California Department of Social Services, October 2009

    Reaching Those in Need: State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates, 2007 link
    Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, November 2009

    Chart: Verification Requirements and State Options link
    Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, July 2009

    Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, State Options Report link
    Food and Nutrition Service, USDA, June 2009