What is CalWORKS?

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CalWORKs is the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program. It provides a monthly cash benefit, help finding work, and other services to needy families.

Is CalWORKS known by any other names?

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Yes. CalWORKs may also be called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is the name of the federal program that pays for CalWORKs. Some people call it "Welfare."

What is an Assistance Unit (AU)?

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For CalWORKs, an Assistance Unit (AU) includes the people who:
  • Are related to each other (family members)
  • Live in the same home, and
  • Get CalWORKs cash benefits

To keep things simple, DB101 just calls an AU a "family."

What does CalWORKS provide and how long will it last?

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CalWORKs offers a monthly cash benefit, help preparing for and finding work, and other services. Generally adults can get the monthly CalWORKs cash benefit for up to 48 months. Children continue to receive the monthly benefit after the 48-month limit.

You may get CalWORKs benefits for more than 48 months if you:

  • Have a disability and do not get SSI
  • Take care of an ill or disabled person
  • Are pregnant and unable to work
  • Are 60 years old or older
  • Are a child up to 19 years old, even if your parent(s) stop getting CalWORKs because they are over the 48-month limit
  • Are a victim of domestic violence, or
  • Live in Indian Country where at least 50% of the adults are unemployed.

There may be other exceptions to the time limit not included in this list.

Who is eligible for CalWORKS?

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To be eligible for CalWORKs, a family must have a child who:
  1. Is under age 18 (or under age 19 if the child is currently attending high school or vocational school), and
  2. Has at least one parent who is unemployed, disabled, gone (not around to care for the child), in jail, or has died.

In addition, the parent or caretaker must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or meet residency requirements
  • Live in California
  • Not be a fleeing felon or a convicted drug felon

CalWORKs benefits may be available to the following people in a family:

  • Children
  • Parents
  • Pregnant women in their last trimester
  • Minor mothers
  • Certain non-parent relatives who are caring for the children

What will I have to do to participate in CalWORKS?

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To get a monthly cash benefit from CalWORKs, you must do weekly Welfare-to-Work activities, unless you're exempt. You also must report changes to your income and living situation. You will have to report changes annually if only your children are receiving assistance, or every 6 months if both a parent(s) and the children are included in the monthly cash benefit. You must report certain changes immediately. CalWORKs will tell you what those situations are when you start getting benefits.

Are there any medical eligibility requirements to enroll in CalWORKS?

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Sometimes. If you are applying for CalWORKs as a parent with a disability, you have to meet the disability eligibility requirements. CalWORKs considers you disabled if your disability:
  • Is expected to last at least 30 days, and
  • Stops you from being able to work or do Welfare-to-Work activities.

Does what I have in the bank and/or what I own affect my eligibility for CalWORKS?

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Yes. To be eligible for CalWORKs, your family cannot have more than $10,000 in resources ($15,000 for a family with a member 60 years old or older).

Note: One house that the family lives in and one car with a value of $25,000 are not counted as resources, so you may own them and still get CalWORKs. Also, if you have a disability that began before you turned 26, you can open an ABLE account where you can save up to $15,000 each year and not have it counted by CalWORKs. Learn more about ABLE accounts.

How do I apply for CalWORKs?

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If you meet the basic requirements, someone from the county will schedule an appointment with you, give you more forms to fill out, and ask you to submit other documents, like identification and birth certificates.

If you have a disability that makes it hard for you to do the usual application process, ask the agency staff for help (called a reasonable accomodation), like helping you fill out the forms or reading the forms to you.

Note: Due to COVID-19, there may be limits on in-person services. Contact your agency by phone to ask about this.

How soon can I be eligible for benefits from CalWORKs?

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When you apply, the county has to schedule an intake appointment within 7 days, and your CalWORKs application must be accepted or rejected within 45 days. However, many applications are approved more quickly, depending on the county you live in and your family’s circumstances.

What if I need financial help right away?

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  • If you have less than $100, are unable to pay for basic needs (like rent, food, utilities, clothing, and medical care), and it looks like you qualify for CalWORKs, the county must give you up to $200 (typically within 1 to 3 working days), and they must process your CalWORKs application within 15 days.
  • If you are being threatened with eviction, you can choose between an immediate need payment of up to $200 (typically in one to three working days) or having your CalWORKs application processed within 15 working days, so you can start getting your full monthly benefit as soon as possible.
  • You can get CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps) (formerly Food Stamps) within 3 days if your family's gross income is less than $150 a month and you have less than $100 in resources, or if your income and cash on hand added together are less than your monthly rent and utilities.
  • If you are applying for CalWORKs, have not been approved yet, and need money for a special circumstance, CalWORKs may give you a one-time diversion payment of up to $2,000 so that you don't need to go on the program (your CalWORKs application will be withdrawn or turned down if you accept the diversion payment). Diversion payments can be used for things like car repairs, moving expenses for a new job, required tools or uniforms for a job, child care, or emergency housing. If later on you need to go on TANF, the diversion payment will either count as one of your 48 months or be considered an overpayment, depending on the number of months between your diversion payment and going on TANF.

Can I get CalWORKs benefits while I am eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

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Your family can, but you will not be considered as a family member when CalWORKs decides how much your family gets each month. This means that your family gets a smaller monthly benefit than if you were counted as a family member. However, your family's countable income will not include your SSI.

The reasoning behind this rule is that you use your SSI benefit to pay for your own basic living expenses. CalWORKs won't give you money to cover these same expenses, but realizes that you can't share that money with the rest of your family.

Can I get CalWORKS while I am in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program?

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Yes. You can get CalWORKs benefits while you are getting SSDI. However, some of your SSDI benefit amount will count as income when deciding if you can get CalWORKs and how much you can get each month.

How do I stay in CalWORKs?

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To stay in CalWORKs, you need to keep meeting the requirements for:

Are there rules for immigrants to qualify for CalWORKs?

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Yes. To qualify for CalWORKs you must be a California resident. In addition, you must be either a:

Does working affect CalWORKs?

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Yes. If your family's countable income goes up, your cash benefit may go down. If your family’s countable income is more than the Maximum Aid Payment for your family size, your monthly cash benefit may stop completely. You may continue to get other benefits (like child care) even if you stop getting a cash benefit.

Can I receive Welfare-to-Work services if I’m disabled?

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Yes. Many people with disabilities who get CalWORKs benefits are not required to be in the Welfare-to-Work Program, but can voluntarily choose to use Welfare-to-Work services and get paid child care.