Nancy and Dave are married with a young daughter. Dave was recently in an accident and now gets $200 a month in State Disability Insurance (SDI). Nancy makes $800 a month working at a local bakery for 20 hours a week. She also volunteers 16 hours a week at a local animal shelter, where she hopes to eventually get an entry-level job. The money she earns isn’t enough to pay for the food and clothing their daughter needs, so they decided to visit the county human services agency.

There, Nancy and Dave spoke with Ms. López, an eligibility worker. They told her about their situation, and she replied, “CalWORKs is a program for families that can’t financially support their children. There are a number of reasons we accept for not being able to provide this support. One of them is having at least one of the child’s caretakers have a disability, like you Dave.”

Nancy asked, “So we’ll be able to get help from CalWORKs?”

“First we have to see if you meet all of its requirements. Fill out this form and we’ll see if you might be eligible.” When they were finished, Ms. López looked over it. “You seem to meet the resource requirement with no problem,” Ms. López began.

Nancy asked, “What’s that?”

Ms. López replied, “Resources are things you own. You have to have less than $10,000 worth of them. Resources can include things like bank accounts, investments, or other property, but your house and the first $25,000 in value of your car don’t count. Your 1986 Volvo is obviously worth less than $25,000 and you don’t have anything else, so it seems like you’re okay. I’ll have to do a quick calculation to see if you meet the income limits. Nancy, you said you make $800 a month, and Dave, you get $200 a month in SDI. Combined, you get $1,000 a month. $90 of that for each working family member, so you have $910 in countable income. Now we just compare that to the limit. Where do you live?”

“San Francisco,” Dave said. “Why does that matter?”

“Well, there are different limits depending on whether you live in a rural county or urban county. San Francisco is an urban county, so it’s in Region I.” Ms. López pulled out a chart and said, “The program's income limit for a family of 3 in Region 1 is $1,453.”

“So we’re under the income limit!” Nancy exclaimed. “Does that mean we get $1,453 a month? That would be great.”

“Sorry, but that’s not what you get. I know this is confusing, but after we find that you’re eligible, we use an entirely different calculation to figure out your benefit amount. First we have to figure out how much of your income to count,” Ms. López said.

Dave was getting frustrated. “But didn’t we just do that?”

“Yes, we did. As I just said, we have to start over and do a completely different calculation now,” Ms. López explained. “We take your monthly disability-based income and subtract $225. Dave, you get $200 a month in SDI, so we don’t count any of that. We take the $25 that are left from that calculation, and subtract them from Nancy’s earned income.”

“So that’s my $800 minus $25, which is $775. Is that our countable income?” Nancy asked.

“Almost,” Ms. López replied. “We then take that $775 and divide it by two, which gives $387.50. That’s the amount of your income that we think you can use to pay for your family’s basic living expenses. We’ll subtract that from the maximum grant amount, which for a family of 3 living in Region I with one disabled parent is $878. $878 minus $387.50 is $490.50. That’s how much CalWORKs will give you in cash aid.”

“So, they’ll do that calculation and then we just wait for a check to come in the mail?” Dave asked.

“The application usually takes a month or so to process. If you are approved, you’ll get money every month through direct deposit to a bank account or through an ATM-like card called Electronic Benefits Card. If you have any emergency needs, we could get you money sooner. Are you about to be evicted, or do you have any urgent financial problems?”

“No,” Nancy said.

“Okay, good. Usually, adults in the family have to fulfill a work requirement, but since Dave is disabled, he will be exempt. Nancy, you’ll already be fulfilling your work requirement, because you’re working 20 hours a week and doing another 16 hours of volunteering. You might be able to get other services, like child care and counseling and you qualify for free health coverage through Medi-Cal. Let me get this paperwork started and give me a call if you have any questions.”