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How to Complain About Public Assistance Programs

If you are applying for, receiving, or have received public assistance in California, CDSS will handle both benefits/services and discrimination complaints you may have if you feel your rights have been violated. If you have any questions after reading this material -- about your rights or what you should do if you think your rights have been violated -- call your county welfare department or talk to our staff at our Public Inquiry and Response unit at 1-800-952-5253.

One way to ensure that you are treated fairly is to know what you are entitled to receive. Your county welfare department should provide you with information about the public assistance for which you are applying or receiving. If the information is not offered to you, ask for it.

Your Rights

As a person applying for, or receiving public assistance, in California, you have the right to:

  • A written explanation of the decision on your application.
  • A written explanation when any change is made in your eligibility, benefits or services plan.
  • An appeal of any decision on your eligibility, benefits or services plan.
  • Any information related to your eligibility which you provide to the county. You may inspect your case record if you request a State Hearing.
  • Confidentiality--the information you supply for your case record must remain confidential except as otherwise specified by state and federal law.
  • Personal privacy--certain personal information is required to determine your eligibility and need for public assistance.
  • Courtesy, consideration and respect.
  • The same consideration and treatment as all other applicants or recipients, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, disability, marital status or age.
  • File a complaint when you believe you have been discriminated against because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, disability, marital status or age.

These rights must be respected by all persons providing you with public assistance/services, including personnel at county welfare departments, boarding homes and institutions, child care facilities, work or training programs, nursing homes and hospitals.

What To Do If You Have A Complaint

This information is for persons applying for, receiving, or who have received benefits/services from any of the following assistance programs:

If you have a complaint about the Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) Program, you must discuss your concern with a representative at the Social Security Administration District Office nearest your home. That office handles SSI/SSP complaints for persons who are aged, blind and/or disabled. To locate the district office nearest you, refer to the Federal Government listings in your local telephone directory.

When and How to Complain

There are two main types of complaints:

  1. Complaints involving your public assistance application, benefits or services plan, and
  2. Complaints about discrimination.

Each of these matters is handled differently. If you are interested in only learning about public assistance/services complaints, read on. If you want information about filing a discrimination complaint, refer to the How to File a Discrimination Complaint Section of this page.

When and How to File A Benefits/Services Complaint

If you disagree with an action on your application, public assistance benefits or services plan, you can do any or all of the following:

  • You may talk with someone at your county welfare department. Explain why you disagree and ask for help.
  • You may file a formal complaint by writing or calling the Department:
    California Department of Social Services
    Public Inquiry and Response
    P.O. Box 944243
    Sacramento, CA 94244-2430
    Phone 1-800-952-5253 (Voice)
    1-800-952-8349 (TDD)
    State that you want your problem to be handled as a "complaint" and give the reason for the complaint.
  • You may also request a State Hearing to have an Administrative Law Judge review the issue: This is an informal hearing with you, a CDSS Administrative Law Judge, and a county representative.


This 90-day period applies even when you have also filed a complaint with the county or the Department. It is always a good idea to save the envelope containing the Notice of Action so that you can take it to the hearing in case of any dispute about the date.

If you requested a hearing because your aid is going to be reduced or stopped, and you do so before the effective date of the action, you may continue to receive your existing aid amount until the hearing date. If you are receiving food stamps, the amount will remain unchanged only until the end of your current certification period. If the hearing decision is not in your favor, an overpayment may be collected in the amount of cash aid and value of food stamps you received while the hearing was pending.

To request a State Hearing, do one of the following:

  • You may complete and mail the "Request for State Hearing" information on the back of the Notice of Action form. You may include a letter in which you explain why you believe the county action is incorrect. If you have trouble understanding English, be sure your letter includes your language and dialect so that language assistance can be provided at the hearing. Send the hearing request to the county welfare department at the address indicated on the Notice of Action.
  • You may instead make a toll-free call to request a State Hearing:
    California Department of Social Services
    Public Inquiry and Response
    Phone 1-800-952-5253 (Voice)
    1-800-952-8349 (TDD)

    For information describing the State Hearing process in detail, ask your county welfare department for a copy of the Department's, "Your Rights Under California Welfare Programs" pamphlet, or contact the Public Inquiry and Response unit at the above phone number.

When and How to File a Discrimination Complaint

California county welfare departments may not discriminate against you on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, disability, marital status or age. This means that these agencies must provide the same aid, benefits and services to all individuals and groups, except as authorized by federal or state law or the Governor's executive order.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against, you may take one or all of the following actions:

  • You may talk with the county welfare department's Civil Rights Representative: State the basis of the discrimination (for example, age, race, sex), the specific allegation (who, what, when) and the resolution you are seeking. You have 180 days from the date the alleged discrimination occurred to make a complaint or request an investigation. If the representative fails to resolve your complaint to your satisfaction, you may request an investigation. The county will investigate the complaint and inform you of the outcome.
  • You may file a discrimination complaint with CDSS by e-mail, writing or calling :

    California Department of Social Services
    Civil Rights Bureau (CRB)
    744 P Street, M.S. 15-70
    Sacramento, CA 95814

    or Call collect at : (916) 654-2107 E-Mail address: crb@dss.ca.gov

    TDD/TTY Users may call direct: (916) 654-2098 or collect by calling (800) 688-47486 or you may call via the California Relay Service operator at (800) 735-2929.

  • You may also file a discrimination complaint with the appropriate federal agency: If your discrimination complaint involves the Food Stamp Program , write to:

    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    14th andIndependence Avenue SW
    Administration Building
    Washington D.C. 20250

    For all other discrimination complaints relating to any other public assistance programs, write to:

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    Office of Civil Rights
    50 United Nations Plaza
    San Francisco, CA 94102