Eligibility & Application

CalWORKs gives money and other help to families in need based on their family situation, resources, and income.

Family Requirements

Only families that meet these requirements can get CalWORKs:

  • 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
    • Be taking care of at least one child who is under the age of 18 (or 19, if the child is expected to graduate from high school before their 19th birthday)
  • Children must:
    • Be "deprived" by having at least one parent who is unemployed, disabled, absent (not around to care for the child), in jail, or has died
    • If under age 6, have all standard immunizations
    • If school-age and under age 16, be attending school regularly
CalWORKs may not count everybody in your family

CalWORKs doesn’t always count everyone in your family when it checks to see if your family can get cash benefits and how much.

CalWORKs calls a family an "Assistance Unit (AU)." An AU includes people who:

  • Are related to each other (family members)
  • Live in the same home, and
  • Get CalWORKs cash benefits

For CalWORKs, one or more of your family members might not be counted as part of your AU. For example, an AU might not include people who get SSI, foster children, non-citizens, drug felons, and fleeing felons.

To keep things as simple as possible, we always call an AU a "family."

Resource Limits

Your family can only get CalWORKs if it has $11,634 or less in resources ($17,452 if the family includes someone with a disability or someone 60 or over).

CalWORKs does not count some things as resources:

Income Limits

Your family’s income must be under a certain limit based on your family size and where you live. Remember that CalWORKs may not include everybody in your family when it figures your family size and income.

If you want to figure out if you’ll qualify for CalWORKs, you can’t just check your family's income by adding up all your paychecks and benefits checks. That’s because CalWORKs doesn’t count some things as income, including:

Here are the steps CalWORKs takes to calculate your income:

  1. Ignore any types of income you have from the list above
  2. Look at your earned income
  3. Subtract $450 of earned income for each working family member
  4. Add that to any unearned income not listed above, like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), investment income, or other money you get that isn’t from work
  5. The total is your countable income for eligibility

If your countable income for eligibility is less than the limit for your family, you can get CalWORKs benefits. The limit is called a “needs standard” or “Minimum Basic Standard of Adequate Care” (MBSAC), and it is based on your family size and where you live. See the MBSAC for different situations.

Note: Your countable income for eligibility is different than your countable income for figuring your benefit amount. So, the MBSAC is not the amount of money you will get if you qualify for CalWORKs. We’ll explain how to calculate your benefit amount on the next page.


Dennis and Rebecca live with their three young children in Oakland. Dennis is on SSI and has no other income. Rebecca makes $1,000 a month babysitting other kids as she also takes care of her own children. They don’t have any money in the bank and their car is a 1994 Suzuki. They know they meet the family and resource requirements, so they apply for CalWORKs because their income isn’t enough for the family to live on.

When CalWORKs looks at their income, they ignore the money Dennis gets from SSI and only look at Rebecca’s earnings. They subtract $450 from her earned income, leaving the family with just $550 in countable income for eligibility. Since Dennis receives SSI he is not included in the family when determining eligibility for CalWORKs; only Rebecca and the 3 kids are counted. The MBSAC for a family of four in Oakland is $2,080, so the family qualifies for CalWORKs.

We’ll figure out how much money Dennis and Rebecca’s family gets from CalWORKs each month on the next page.


To apply for CalWORKs:

There is a simple initial application form you’ll need to fill out. Then someone from the county will contact you to schedule an eligibility interview. During the interview the county eligibility worker will ask more detailed questions to see if your household qualifies for benefits. You will be given more forms to fill out, and you will need 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 your county social services agency staff for help (called a reasonable accommodation), like helping you fill out the forms or reading the forms to you.

While you’re applying for CalWORKs, you can also apply for CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps) and Medi-Cal. If you are not eligible for CalWORKs you may apply for General Assistance/General Relief. You may also be able to get some money immediately if you are in an emergency situation.

If you are accepted for CalWORKs, you will get a letter that explains how much you will get each month and the program rules.

Learn more