135.6 Special Allowances for Supportive Services

Guidance on Special Allowances (SPALs) for TANF recipients related to electronic devices or personal computers, ESA-20048-135 (Published July 31, 2020)

An individual may receive special allowances for supportive services (SPALs) if required to enable participation in employment or an approved work-related activity for the number of hours specified on the Agreement of Mutual Responsibility (AMR).  A SPAL is the payment for required items or services and is issued and tracked by recipient number.  

55 Pa. Code § 165.41

7 CFR 273.7

Consideration should always be given for the least costly, most practical item or service to meet the need. See Desk Guide for Special Allowances for Supportive Services.

The CAO must inform applicants and recipients, orally and in writing, of the availability of SPALs, including information about the annual and lifetime limits, at application, renewal and whenever the AMR is developed or revised. The CAO will also assist the participant in getting supportive services and issue SPALs required to participate in approved activities.  

55 Pa. Code § 165.41(c)   

Eligibility for SPALs is based on the amount of time the SPAL is intended to cover and whether or not it is needed and required to support an allowable activity on the AMR. 

At the same time, individuals have already developed some abilities and resources that they can use to help them overcome obstacles in their daily lives.  The CAO will help individuals explore whether these already developed skills can be applied so that they can participate in employment or a required work activity without the need for SPALs from the CAO. Other alternatives and all options that may be available at no cost to the individual must also be discussed. 

A SPAL is made only to the extent that the item or service is not available from another source at no cost to the individual.

55 Pa. Code § 165.41(b)

The Department will not pay for or provide a special allowance for items and services already paid for or obtained unless required under federal law.

NOTE: When an individual is receiving both TANF and SNAP benefits a SPAL, must be issued under the TANF program, the individual is not eligible to receive a SPAL under the SNAP program.

 

 

The Special Allowance Verification Form, PA 1883 is used to confirm that the item or service requested is needed and required to enable participation in RESET or SNAP E&T activities.  This form is also used to discuss the availability of an individual’s existing supports and to determine what supportive services are required to enable participation in employment, education, training or an activity noted on the AMR or EDP. Consideration is given to whether participation would not be possible without the item or service requested; and whether the item or service is provided by the employer, activity, school or training provider.

Consideration should always be given for the least costly, most practical item or service to meet the need.

The CAO will confirm the need for the allowance by using the Special Allowance Verification Form in one of several ways:

NOTE: Advise the individual of the time frame for returning the SPAL Verification Form. Also offer a Business Reply Envelope for returning the form, although it may be faxed to the CAO.  

 

Ineligibility

If the SPAL Verification Form:

 

Then the CAO will:

 

Estimates

The CAO will request an estimate of the cost of the required items.  The estimate may be hand-written by the individual, produced by the retailer, or can be obtained online and will be retained in the record.

Shipping and handling costs may be added as part of the total costs for the SPAL for the supportive service; i.e. books or tools.  The costs for shipping and handling may not be authorized as a separate fee.

It is important for the CAO to consider the total costs including shipping and handling when determining whether the purchase of the supportive service is the least costly, most practical item.

Estimates for bus or other mass transit fares can be confirmed using collateral contact, transit authority websites or other publications. Narrate the fare amount and how that estimate was obtained.

Example: Zone 1 bus passes $30. Estimate obtained through transit authority website. 

 

The CAO may:

NOTE:  The CAO may not direct individuals to make their purchases at a particular store, but if the individual chooses to purchase the items at a store that charges more, it will be the individual’s responsibility to pay the difference. 

An exception may be granted if the individual lives in a rural area where prices may be inflated, but the cost of traveling to stores with lower costs would be unreasonable.  CAOs should use their best judgment to ensure that individuals are able to obtain the items that are required to participate in employment and training activities.

 

Mileage

Estimates are not required for SPALs for mileage.  The CAO will use a website that provides mileage to a given location and the return trip.  The mileage rate for participation in E&T activities is $.20/mile. Narrate the calculation used to determine the SPAL amount.

NOTE:  Transportation to medical appointments is not ETP-related and has a different mileage rate.  Transportation to medical appointments is $.12/mile and is issued with reason code 200.

The individual must provide verification of car ownership prior to the issuance of a mileage SPAL.  If verification already exists in the record, the individual does not have to re-verify.

 

Receipts

An original receipt verifies the item or service was purchased with the SPAL and that the SPAL was used for its intended purpose.  The original receipt must be provided by the individual within 14 days of receiving the benefit. Narrate that the individual was advised of the receipt verification policy.

It is important to stress to the individual that he or she write his or her name or case record number on the receipt so it can be identified.

The CAO will provide a business reply envelope to the individual in which to return the receipt.

Receipts should be date stamped when received by the CAO.

Restricted Endorsement Checks that have been cashed will not be considered a receipt.  An original sales receipt showing the vehicle purchase or repair must be provided by the individual.

Money Orders will not be considered a receipt.  If the individual purchases a service or item using a money order, the individual must also provide an original sales receipt to validate the purchase.

If the individual must retain the original receipt for warranty purposes, it is acceptable for the CAO to make a copy to keep in the case record.

If a receipt is not available through the transportation provider, individuals can provide the CAO with a copy of the transit pass as documentation of how the special allowance was used.

If the individual has an OTI for a single bus ride and receipts are not provided by the bus driver, the CAO can confirm through collateral contact, transit authority websites or other publications the amount for daily fares and narrate this information in lieu of a receipt.

Receipts are not required for a mileage SPAL; however, the CAO should confirm that the individual is still participating in an allowable activity before authorizing ongoing SPALs.

 

Overpayments

Indicate on the AMR or EDP that an overpayment will be filed if:

NOTE:  The CAO will process an overpayment referral to recover a SPAL to the extent of the misuse.  Overpayments will be calculated based on a prorated period of participation to reflect the time the client actually complied with the activity; based on a daily, weekly, monthly proration. See the Overpayment Calculator. 

EXAMPLE: A monthly bus pass was issued to Mrs. C to attend a four-week training program. Mrs. C. went to class for the first two weeks, but then terminated her participation without good cause. Mrs. C does not meet an exemption. The cost of the bus pass was $40.00. An overpayment for $20.00 for the remaining two weeks should be processed by the CAO.

The CAO must set an alert for the date that the verification must be returned and ensure that it is provided. 

If the individual provides the receipt at any time, the CAO should end the overpayment. If the reimbursement process has already begun, repayment will be stopped.

See Supplemental Handbook Section 910.2, When Does An Overpayment Exist.

The CAO is correct in processing an overpayment when the individual does not provide a receipt within 14 days after the issuance of the SPAL.  However, there are no provisions that allow the CAO to deny additional SPAL requests for services or items that are determined to be needed and required for participation in the approved activity.

NOTE:  Recoupment does apply to an overpayment of a special allowance for cash assistance supportive services. 

55 Pa. Code § 165.91

 

Special Allowances for special needs items differ from special allowances for supportive services that support E&T activities. Special Allowances for special needs items are available to individuals and families for:

See Section 138.3, Allowances and Benefits, for a complete discussion of the types of special items allowances available and how individuals can qualify for them.  

 EPP-16590-135 Transportation Allowance for TCA Cases (Linked April 3, 2013)

 

 

135.61 Advance Payment Requirement for Special Allowances for Supportive Services

Special allowances for all supportive services will be paid by the CAO in advance of the date that payment is required by the provider.  

55 Pa. Code § 165.42

Time Frames For Issuing A SPAL     

55 Pa. Code § 165.45

If Then Example
The verification is obtained or received within five calendar days following the date of the request. The CAO will authorize payment no later than 10 calendar days following the date of request.  
Jane requests a SPAL for transportation on January 3. She provides the necessary verification on January 5. The CAO must authorize the transportation allowance no later than January  13.
The verification is obtained or received beyond  five calendar days following the request. The CAO will authorize payment no later than five calendar days after receipt of the verification.  
John requests a SPAL for books on January 3. He provides the necessary verification on January 10. The CAO must authorize the allowance for books no later than January 15.

 

The CAO may not require an individual to purchase, using installment payments, layaway or any form of charge or credit purchase, and then seek reimbursement for an item or service to participate in an approved E&T activity when an individual is specifically eligible and payment is available via special allowance. The CAO will not reimburse an individual who has already paid for a supportive service.

 

 

135.62 Eligibility for Special Allowances for Supportive Services

The following individuals may be considered for SPALs:

NOTE:  This includes an individual who is not receiving a payment because of the $10 minimum payment provisions.

When an individual is receiving both SNAP and TANF benefits, a SPAL MUST be issued under the TANF program; the individual is not eligible to receive a SPAL under the SNAP program. An individual with a RESET sanction under TANF cannot be opened in a SNAP E&T component or receive SPALs.

NOTE:  An individual who has received an NCE payment for Expedited SNAP benefits, and has not been determined eligible for ongoing SNAP benefits, is not eligible to receive special allowances for supportive services.

SPALs are authorized to support the approved E&T activities of individuals who:

Mandatory participants and exempt volunteers must meet the following conditions to be considered for special allowances for supportive services:

NOTE:  The activity cannot be secondary education or an equivalent level of vocational or technical training, unless the individual is pregnant or a custodial parent.

135.63 Verification      

Before authorizing payment for a supportive service, the  CAO will determine:   

 55 Pa. Code § 165.44  

55 Pa. Code § 165.44(a)(2)

Acceptable verification includes, but is not limited to:    

55 Pa. Code § 165.44(a)(3)

The CAO may use a collateral contact whenever necessary to ensure that payment is made in advance of the date that payment is required by the provider.    

55 Pa. Code § 165.44(a)(4)

 

135.631 Reviewing Continued Eligibility

An individual’s continued eligibility for an ongoing SPAL should be reviewed monthly or more frequently if costs are likely to change, also at each renewal, whenever a change in employment or training is reported by the participant or the training provider, and when the AMR is revised.       

The term ongoing refers to an ongoing need to support the same activity – not automatic eligibility for continuing SPALS.  Before issuing a subsequent SPAL to support the same activity, the CAO must ensure that the activity and the need for the SPAL continue. To review the participant’s eligibility for an ongoing special allowance for supportive services, the CAO must determine if the participant is still engaged in the education or training activity or employment. 

The CAO will inform the individual in a continuing E&T activity that ongoing SPALs must be requested timely to ensure that the SPAL can be issued in advance of the need and therefore does not disrupt the individual’s education or training activity or employment.  The CAO will inform the individual of the date each month that the request for the ongoing SPAL should be requested with consideration of processing time, to ensure continued issuance of the SPAL. 

The CAO will continue to make advance payments to support the ongoing need for supportive services as they are requested by the participant with consideration of the date of request. 

Ongoing SPALs can only be authorized for a one month period and must be reviewed before each reauthorization to ensure that:

For ongoing allowances, like mileage or bus passes, the CAO will complete the SPAL Verification Form initially and then review these points with the individual periodically or when circumstances change (like a change in activity, or if the client moves).  

135.64 Processing Requests for Special Allowances for Supportive Services

When a request for a special allowance for supportive services is made, the CAO will:

55 Pa. Code § 165.43

A notice approving the request must contain:

A notice denying the request must contain:

The individual has the right to appeal a decision by the CAO concerning a request for a special allowance for supportive services. See Supplemental Handbook Chapter 870, Appeal and Fair Hearing.

The following documentation must be made in the case record narrative when a SPAL is issued:      

ESA-16540-135 Narrative Template for Special Allowances (SPAL) (Linked February 25, 2013)

 

 

135.65 Time Frames for Approving or Denying a Request for Special Allowances for Supportive Services

Special allowances for all supportive services will be paid by the CAO in advance of the date that payment is required by the service provider, consistent with the requirements and time frames discussed in this section.    

55 Pa. Code § 165.42(a)

When the CAO obtains or receives verification within five (5) calendar days after the request for a special allowance for supportive services, the CAO will authorize payment no later than ten (10) days after the date of request.   

 55 Pa. Code § 165.45

When the CAO obtains or receives verification more than five (5) calendar days following the request for a special allowance, the CAO will authorize payment no later than five (5) calendar days after the receipt of verification.

NOTE:  In some circumstances it might not be possible to issue a payment via EBT, local issuance check or restricted endorsement check before the date payment is required by an item or service provider. This might occur because of the timing of the individual’s request or because of a delay in obtaining verification necessary to evaluate the special allowance request. Under these circumstances as with all others, the payment for an approved special allowance request must be authorized within the required time frame, regardless of the length of time needed by the CAO to issue the payment.

When the last day or authorization of payment falls on a weekend or holiday, the CAO will authorize payment on or before the working day immediately preceding the weekend or holiday.

Authorization of payment includes actually processing all the data needed to issue a check, including completing all required forms, and performing data entry.

The CAO will issue the written decision approving a SPAL within the time frame for authorization in this section.

Determine the method of payment, such as EBT, local issuance check or central issuance check that provides payment of the SPAL on or before the date payment is required by the item or service provider.

NOTE:  Special allowance payments for automobile purchases, down payments and repairs, when approved and upon authorization, must be issued to the individual via the restricted endorsement check process. Restricted endorsement checks are made payable to both the individual and the item or service provider. The restricted endorsement check is then mailed directly to the service provider. Signatures of both the individual and the provider are required.    62 P.S. § 403(g)

 

 

135.66 Types of Special Allowances for Supportive Services

Annual and lifetime limits apply to SPAL issuance. The CAO will use a program year to track annual limits. A program year runs from July 1 through June 30.

See the SPAL Desk Guide for SPALs that may be issued by the CAO.       

55 Pa. Code § 165.46

 NOTE: When an individual is receiving both SNAP and TANF benefits, a SPAL MUST be issued under the TANF program; the individual is not eligible to receive a SPAL under the SNAP program.

The following SPALs may not be authorized for individuals who receive both TANF and SNAP benefits.

SPALs are grouped into four categories which include sub-categories and SPAL reason codes. When authorizing a SPAL for E & T activities, the reason code to enter on eCIS is selected from either the 200 or 800 series. Reason codes numbered in the 200s are used for SNAP or non-working TANF recipients. Reason codes numbered in the 800s are used for working TANF recipients. An 800 series reason code should not be used for SNAP-only recipients.

 

TRANSPORTATION:         

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(a)(1) & (2)

Annual and lifetime limits apply to SPAL issuance. The amount of the maximum allowance for all transportation SPALs is the actual cost of up to $1,500 annually. The CAO will use a program year to track annual limits. A program year runs from July 1 through June 30.

 

Bus, includes Subway, Commuter Rail or Paratransit (Reason Code 268/868) and Taxi (Reason Code 272/872)

As required for job interviews, approved activities or for employment. May be authorized for the period up to the date of the first pay.

 

Mileage, includes parking and tolls if required (Reason Code 250/850)

As required for job interviews or approved activities, or for employment. May be authorized for the period up to the date of the first pay.

 

Volunteer Driver: The E&T participant can request a SPAL of $.20/mile to pay a volunteer driver to offset the driver’s fuel cost and wear on the car when being transported to program activities. The SPAL must be issued to the participant via EBT. The participant is then responsible to pay the volunteer driver.

 

Car/Van Pool (Reason Code 267/867)

As required for job interviews or approved activities, or for employment. May be authorized for the period up to the date of the first pay.

 

Motor Vehicle Repair (Reason Code 262/862)   

ESA-18584-135 - Special Allowance for Towing a Disabled Vehicle - July 24, 2017

ESA-18589-135 - Vehicle Value - July 24, 2017

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(a)(3)

As required for work or approved activities.

Volunteer Driver: The CAO may approve a SPAL for a car repair for a volunteer driver who is part of the household.

The CAO may not approve a SPAL for a car repair for a volunteer driver who is not part of the household. The volunteer driver who is not part of the household assumes the maintenance of the car and, as the owner, is responsible for the cost of repairs, inspections, insurance and operator’s fees so a SPAL should not be issued.

 

Motor Vehicle Expenses (Reason Code 260/860)     

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(a)(4)

As required for work or approved activities.

Includes:

The CAO may issue a motor vehicle operator fee for a valid PA driver’s license when an individual has a license from another state.

The item or fee is required for legal operation of the motor vehicle.

Operation of the vehicle must be required to participate in employment or approved work-related activities, including transporting a child to day care while participating in an ETP planned activity.

 

Moving/Relocation (Reason Code 244/844)

Issued to accept a verified offer of gainful, permanent employment.

The amount is limited to the actual cost of the item/service up to $200 maximum annually. The actual amount issued for this expense counts against the $1,500 annual limit for transportation SPALs.

 

 

CLOTHING:          

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(b)(1)

Annual and lifetime limits apply to SPAL issuance. The amount of the maximum allowance for clothing SPALs is the actual cost of up to $150 annually. The CAO will use a program year to track annual limits. A program year runs from July 1 through June 30.     

 

Clothing for Employment/Training (Reason Code 256/856)

As required for work or approved activities. For specific clothing and grooming items and services to support a dress code requirement. This includes such items as safety clothing and shoes, and uniforms or business attire required by an employer or a training provider.

NOTE:  A referral to the local PA WORKWEAR (PAWW) provider is the first resource for clothing. A referral to PAWW no longer requires that the welfare recipient meet the eligibility requirements for a SPAL. All TANF clients are eligible for a referral to PAWW if they express a need for clothing to work or for a work-related activity.  

A referral to PAWW must still be used in lieu of a clothing SPAL from the CAO or contractor. A clothing SPAL should only be authorized in non-PA WORKWEAR areas or when PA WORKWEAR cannot provide the required item. See PA WORKWEAR (PAWW) Desk Guide.

NOTE:  Commonly requested items with costs known to the CAO do not require a written estimate; however the narrative must explain the item or service costs have been determined by the CAO to be the least costly available.

 

VEHICLE PURCHASE -TANF recipients only (Reason Code 261/861)

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(a)(3)

As required for work or approved activities.

Annual and lifetime limits apply to SPAL issuance. The amount of the maximum allowance is up to $1,500 for the purchase of one vehicle in a lifetime.

Vehicle must be required to enable the individual to participate in employment or approved work-related activities including transporting a child to day care while participating in an ETP planned activity.

Other types of transportation must be evaluated in comparison to a motor vehicle down payment or purchase to determine the most practical and least costly type of transportation available to the meet the individual’s employment, education or training need.

The allowance may be issued only if other less costly types of transportation are not available and practical.

May not be combined with motor vehicle repair allowance at time of authorization or purchase.

Verification must be provided that the vehicle is in safe operating condition at time of authorization and purchase, including valid inspections, or can be expected to pass inspection without repair.

May include sales tax, or may be used as a down payment toward the actual cost of the vehicle.

When used as a down payment, the individual must verify a plan to pay the difference between the down payment and actual purchase price, including sales tax.

Payment for motor vehicle down payment or purchase must be issued via the restricted endorsement check process.

Pre-expenditure approval at management level is required.

Before a SPAL for a car purchase can be authorized the CAO must take the following steps:

NOTE:  Validation of car insurance is made by The Department of Transportation (PennDOT) who requires proof of car insurance for individuals who Buy a Car in Pennsylvania.

The E & T participant requesting the car purchase allowance must become the registered owner of the car being purchased.

A SPAL can be issued for a car with a current inspection from another state. In order to qualify for the SPAL, the individual must provide written verification from an auto mechanic certified to perform Pennsylvania state inspections that the car can pass Pennsylvania inspection, without the cost of additional repairs. If the car is determined to need repairs to pass inspection, the CAO may not authorize the special allowance.

NOTE:  The out of state vehicle will be subject to a Pennsylvania state inspection within ten days of purchase.

A SPAL may not be issued to purchase a car that cannot pass required Pennsylvania state inspection criteria.

Volunteer Driver

The CAO may not approve a car purchase for a volunteer driver.

 

WORK, EDUCATION AND TRAINING:           

Annual and lifetime limits apply to SPAL issuance. The amount of the maximum allowance for all work, education and training SPALs is the actual cost of up to $1,000 in a lifetime.

 

Tools/Equipment (Reason Code 257/857)        

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(b)(2)

Equipment or tools for employment, education or training

As required for work or approved activities. Limited to actual minimum cost up to $1,000 in a lifetime.

Example:  Mr. C is offered a position with a catering service after conducting a job search. The catering service requires its employees to obtain their own restaurant-grade knives and serving utensils. Mr. C requests a special allowance for equipment and tools to purchase the knives and utensils. Mr. C verifies the requirement and is eligible to receive up to $1,000 for the actual cost of the required knives and utensils to begin employment.

 

Books/Supplies (Reason Code 278/878)       

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(b)(3)

As required for work or approved activities. Limited to actual minimum cost up to $1,000 in a lifetime.

 

Fees (Reason Code 264/864)         

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(b)(4)

Registration or enrollment fee for a training course.

As required for work or approved activities. Limited to actual minimum cost up to $1,000 per lifetime.

EPP632135 Can We Pay a Child Care Registration Fee? (Linked April 20, 2010)

 

Union Dues/Professional Fees (Reason Code 258/858)      

55 Pa. Code § 165.46(b)(5)

May be authorized once per job, limited to the initial fee and/or for the period up to the date of the first paycheck. Limited to actual minimum cost up to $1,000 in a lifetime.

 

Initially a discussion about the availability of SPALs needs to occur with the individual when the RESET plan is developed at application and reinforced at renewal, partial renewal or compliance review.  This discussion needs to include the SPAL categories, the limits and the expectation of continued participation if the limits are reached.

When individuals deplete their SPAL limit for transportation they must implement an alternative plan.  Alternatives may include, but are not limited to, community service near their home, independent job search from home, networking with friends and family or relocating to an area where transportation is convenient

NOTE: The CAO may not issue good cause for failure to participate in employment or a work related activity because the maximum amount for a category of a SPAL has been issued. 

The CAO will place an indicator code related to transportation issues on ETP Project Enrollment. See Appendix B.

Special Allowances for two-parent households need to be evaluated based on SPAL policy related to verified need of each parent for participation.  SPALs are issued and tracked by recipient number therefore each parent in a  two-parent household is potentially eligible for the same category of SPAL related to their individual participation requirement. Care must be taken to avoid duplication of SPALs. 

Examples:

1.   If both parents in a two-parent home attend the same EARN; and use their own vehicle, only one SPAL for mileage should be issued.  If the  SPAL limit is reached for one parent then the other parent may request SPALs which then count toward that parent’s SPAL limit.   In the same case, if a car repair is requested, the vehicle repair should be authorized for the same parent that received the mileage SPAL. 

2.   If both parents attend EARN and travel by bus, each parent would be eligible for their own bus pass under public transportation SPAL and the cost of the bus pass would count against each parents SPAL limit independently.

 

If a paid work activity results in earnings which are treated as earned income, transportation SPALs associated with paid activities may be authorized up to the date of the first pay, with consideration of the least costly and most practical item or service. 

SPALs associated with unpaid activities may be issued as needed and required up to the established limits to help an individual participate.

When an individual is participating in both paid and unpaid activities approved on the ETP plan, the specific costs related to one or both activities must be distinguished before SPALs may be authorized.  Documentation in the case narrative must include the program and activity as well as the number of hours of participation in each activity the SPAL will support.

 

 

Reissued July 24, 2017 , Replacing August 12, 2016