The Cash Benefit

If you qualify for CalWORKs, you’ll get a monthly cash benefit for up to 60 months, as long as you continue to qualify and meet the Welfare-to-Work requirements explained on the next page (children continue to receive cash aid after the 60-month limit).

Note: The 60-month limit is a lifetime limit. That means that if you got benefits for 12 months, went off CalWORKs for a while and got back on later, you would only have 48 months of cash benefits remaining.

Some situations let you get more than 60 months of benefits

You might get CalWORKs benefits for more than 60 months if you:

  • Meet certain exemptions, or
  • Qualify for an extension to the time limit.

For example, you may be able to get more than 60 months of benefits if you are disabled and not getting SSI or if you are caring for an ill or disabled person in your home.

To learn more about these exemptions or others, talk to a benefits planner or with your county social services agency.

How Much You Get Each Month

To decide how much you should get, your county social services agency will take these steps:

  1. Decide who counts as part of your family under CalWORKs rules
  2. Decide if your family is “exempt” (if you are, you get more money each month)
  3. Figure out the highest CalWORKs benefit your family can get based on your family’s size, living situation, and location (where you live)
  4. Figure out how much of your family income is counted under CalWORKs rules
  5. Subtract your family’s income (figured in step 4) from the maximum benefit possible for a family like yours (figured in step 3), which gives the amount your family can get each month.

Here we’ll explain these steps in greater detail.

Who is a part of your family?

Not everybody who lives with you is considered part of your family when the county is deciding how much money you’ll get each month from CalWORKs. These are the main groups of people who may not be considered part of the family, even if they live in your home:

  • People who get SSI
  • People who are not U.S. citizens or do not meet residency requirements
  • Foster children getting foster care payments
  • Immigrants whose needs are met by a sponsor or sponsor’s agency
  • Drug felons or fleeing felons
  • People who have been "sanctioned" for not following CalWORKs rules without good cause

Larger families qualify for larger benefits, so if CalWORKs doesn’t count some people in your family, your benefit could be lower.

Is your family exempt?

If all of the adults in the family are disabled and receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), State Disability Insurance (SDI), or Worker’s Compensation, you will get a higher cash benefit. The higher benefit is called the “exempt” amount.

What is the maximum possible benefit a family like yours can get?

The maximum possible CalWORKs benefit depends on your family size, whether your family is exempt, and where you live. When they look at where you live, they’ll give your family slightly more if you live in an urban area (a city) than if you live in a rural area (the country). That’s because rent, food, and other basic living expenses cost more in cities than in the country.

See the maximum benefit amounts for different situations.

How do they count your income when deciding how much you get?

Your countable income to decide how much you can get in benefits is completely different than your countable income to decide if you can get benefits. To figure out how much you can get, we have to ignore what we did before and start over with a new income calculation.

Here are the steps your county social services agency will take when it calculates your income:

  1. Add up all of the money you get from disability benefits, including SDI, private disability insurance, workers' compensation, and SSDI. Remember, any family members who get SSI won’t be counted as part of your family by CalWORKs, so you don’t have to include their SSI benefit or any other income they may have when you add up your family’s disability benefits.
  2. Subtract $600 from the combined total of your disability benefits to find your countable disability income. This $600 is called the disability-based income (DBI) disregard.
  3. Add your countable disability income to any other unearned income you have, such as unemployment benefits or other sources of money that are not from work. The combined total is called your countable unearned income.
  4. If your family has earned income:
    1. Add up the earned income your family members have from different sources.
    2. If your family got the disability-based income disregard (DBI) when figuring unearned income in step 2 and you get less than $600 in disability benefits (which means you didn’t use the entire $600 DBI on unearned income) you can subtract whatever is left over from that $600 from your earned income.
      • Example: You get $180 each month in SDI. That’s less than $600, so you can subtract $420 from your family’s earned income.
    3. If your family did not use the DBI when figuring unearned income in step 2, subtract $600 from your earned income. This $600 is called the earned income disregard.
    4. Divide your family’s remaining earned income by 2. This is your countable earned income.
  5. Add your countable unearned income from step 3 to your countable earned income from step 4 to find your total countable income.

On the previous page, we saw that Dennis and Rebecca qualify for CalWORKs. Dennis gets SSI and has no other income, while Rebecca makes $1,000 a month babysitting other kids as she also takes care of their own three children. The county reviews their application to figure out how much this Oakland family will get in CalWORKs aid.

The first thing the county looks at is the family's unearned income. The county totally ignores Dennis and the $1,182.94 he gets in SSI and does not subtract the $600 earned income disregard from the family’s income. That’s because CalWORKs doesn’t consider him part of the family when calculating how much the family gets in benefits. Since the family has no other unearned income, the family’s total countable unearned income is $0.

Then, the county looks at the family’s earned income – the $1,000 that Rebecca makes each month. First, the county subtracts the $600 earned income disregard from this, leaving $400. Then, the county divides that by 2, which leaves them with $200.00 in countable earned income. Since there was no unearned income, the family’s total countable income is $200.00.

Note: Remember that countable income for figuring out how much a family gets from CalWORKs is completely different than countable income for deciding if a family can get CalWORKs. Dennis and Rebecca have $200.00 in countable income for determining the benefit, but had $550 in countable income for figuring out eligibility.

How much will I get?

To calculate your monthly cash benefit, subtract your total countable income from the maximum possible benefit a family like yours could get. Your benefit will be directly deposited into a bank account or you get it via an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which is a debit card.

Example (continued)

The county worker looks up the maximum possible benefit amount for Dennis and Rebecca’s family. Remember, the family:

  • Has 4 family members (Rebecca and the 3 children; Dennis is not counted because he is on SSI)
  • Is not exempt because Rebecca does not have a disability
  • Lives in Oakland, which is part of Region 1 because it is an urban area (Alameda County)

The maximum benefit chart shows that the most a family like this can get would be $1,412 a month.

The county subtracts the family’s $200.00 in countable income from the $1,412 and figures out that the family gets $1,212.00 per month from CalWORKs.

Other Benefits

Besides cash, CalWORKs also provides other benefits:

  • Help with Welfare-to-Work activities (described on the next page)
  • Emergency cash if you are about to lose your home, are experiencing homelessness, or some other emergency
  • Family planning and Child Health & Disability Prevention (CHDP)

After your CalWORKs benefits end, you get another 12 months of transitional Medi-Cal health coverage and 24 months of child care.

Learn more