CalWORKs gives money and other assistance to eligible families. To be eligible, a family must meet basic rules about their family situation, resources, and income.
Only families that meet these requirements can get CalWORKs:
The parent or caretaker must:
- Be a U.S. citizen or meet residency requirements
- Be a California resident
- 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 expected to graduate from high school before his or her 19th birthday)
- Children must:
CalWORKs doesn’t always count every person in your family when it considers your family’s eligibility for cash benefits or how much money you will get. For example, it may not include people who get SSI, foster children, non-citizens, drug felons, and fleeing felons. Keep this in mind as we explain the eligibility rules.
Your family can only get CalWORKs if it has $2,250 or less in resources ($3,250 if the family includes someone 60 or over).
CalWORKs does NOT count some things as resources:
- Your home
- Household goods (like furniture or appliances)
- Some types of trusts
- Your car, if it’s worth $9,500 or less
- Assets in a tax-free ABLE account. Learn more about ABLE accounts.
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 calculates your family size and income.
You can’t just add up your family’s paychecks and benefits checks to see what your income is and figure out if you’ll qualify for CalWORKs. That’s because CalWORKs doesn’t count some things as income, including:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Loans and grants
- The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and
- Federal Relocation/Disaster benefits.
Here are the steps CalWORKs will take to calculate your income:
- Ignore any types of income you have from the list above
- Look at your earned income
- Subtract $90 of earned income for each working family member
- 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
- The total is your countable income for eligibility
If your countable income for eligibility is less than the limit for your family, you are eligible for CalWORKs. The limit is called a “needs standard” or “Minimum Basic Standard of Adequate Care” (MBSAC). The MBSAC varies 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 calculating 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 1988 Honda. 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 $90 from her earned income, leaving the family with just $910 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 $1,533, so the family qualifies for CalWORKs.
We’ll look at how much money Dennis and Rebecca’s family gets each month from CalWORKs after explaining how the benefit is calculated on the next page.
To apply for CalWORKs, go to your county human services agency. There is a simple initial eligibility form you’ll need to fill out. Then, if you meet the basic eligibility requirements, someone from the county will schedule an appointment with you, give you more forms to fill out, and will ask you to submit other documents, like identification and birth certificates. 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.