Fact check: Fake letter circulating on Facebook quickly debunked by California agency

Gabriella Khalaj, USA TODAY

The claim: California may place kids in foster care if a parent who receives certain benefits tests positive for COVID-19

A May 10 Facebook post that displayed a screenshot of what appeared to be a letter from the California Department of Social Services went viral.

The social media post claimed that recipients of government assistance programs, such as MediCal and CalFresh, would lose their benefits if they refused mandatory COVID-19 testing.

"As a participant in state assistance benefits, including cash aid, Cal Fresh and MediCal, and in accordance with The State of California Emergency Numbers 3.21.20-EO-N-35-20 and N-25-20, you are being informed that COVID-19 testing is declared mandatory for all members of your household receiving assistance," the post read.

Post by michael.york.7771586.

The social media post, which contained what appears to be the signature of Mark Ghaley, secretary for California's Health & Human Services Agency, also advised recipients to be tested prior to June 1.

"Failure to obtain the test by June 1, 2020, will result in the temporary suspension of your benefits beginning July 1, 2020, and continue until such time that testing has been completed," continued the post.

The letter also directed recipients to get tested for free at any of the participating testing sites in Merced County, California. However, according to the letter, those who test positive for the virus may see their children placed in foster care.

"In addition, should you test positive for COVID-19, and in compliance with the State of California Welfare and Institutions Code, The Human Services Agency of Merced County may deem it necessary to remove all children (under the age of 18) from your household who have tested negative, and place them in temporary foster care."

Quickly debunked

The same day of the Facebook post, the CDSS posted a warning about the letter on its website, debunking the contents of the social media post.

"We have become aware of a fake letter containing references to Merced County Human Services Agency that is circulating on social media," the CDSS said.

According to CDSS, the letter included the faked signature of Ghaley.

The CDSS also said that all of the information in the letter is fake, and that it has alerted the proper authorities for further investigation.

"State departments and county human services departments NEVER will ask about your health status in connection to an application for benefits," the CDSS said. "Similarly, children must be subject to abuse or neglect to enter foster care."

According to the CDSS, an ill parent does not warrant a children being placed in foster care.

The claim has also been determined to be false by Snopes and Truth or Fiction.

Our ruling: False

We rate this claim as FALSE because it was not supported by our research. No such letter was sent from the state agency.

Our fact-check sources:

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: California DSS letter threatening foster care is fake