Getting Assistance for Non-Food Items (TANF) in California

CalWORKs, the California version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), is a welfare program that gives cash aid and services to eligible and needy California families. If a family has little or no cash and needs housing, food, utilities, clothing, or medical care, they may be eligible to receive immediate short-term help. Families who apply and qualify for ongoing assistance receive money each month to help pay for housing, food, and other necessary expenses. It also provides education, employment, and training programs to assist the family’s transition to self-sufficiency.

To learn more about the different aspects of CalWORKs, read the following sections:
•    Eligibility requirements and time limits for CalWORKs
•    How to receive CalWORKs
•    CalWORKs work requirements
•    CalWORKs benefit levels and parental responsibility


Eligibility Requirements and Time Limits for CalWORKs

The amount of a family’s monthly assistance payment depends on a number of factors, including the number of people who are eligible, and the special needs of any of those family members. The income of the family is considered in calculating the amount of cash aid a family receives.

Specific eligibility requirements take into account the applicant’s citizenship, age, income, resources, assets and other factors. These requirements include: 
• Being a resident of California.
• Be either pregnant or responsible for a child under 19 years of age.
• Be a U.S. national, citizen, legal alien, or permanent resident.
• Have low or very low income.
• Be either under-employed (working for very low wages), unemployed, or about to  become unemployed.
 In general, CalWORKs services are available to:
• Families that have a child(ren) in the home who has been deprived of parental support  or care because of the absence, disability, or death of either parent.
• Families with a child(ren) when both parents are in the home but the primary earner is  unemployed.
• Needy caretaker relatives of a foster child(ren).

Persons fleeing to avoid prosecution, custody, or confinement after conviction of a felony are not eligible for CalWORKs.

California state law provides for a cumulative 48-month lifetime limit on cash aid for adults. Children of adults who exhaust the 48-month time limit may continue to receive cash aid, of otherwise eligible, up to age 18.

How to Receive CalWORKs

CalWORKs serves all 58 counties in California and is operated locally by county welfare departments. Needy families may apply for CalWORKs at any office located in the county where they live. These departments can be found in the telephone book. 

Families needing assistance must complete application forms. Then the welfare office will set up an interview with one of its workers to obtain facts and verify eligibility. The petitioners must provide the County with proof of income and property, citizenship status, age, Social Security numbers, residence, shelter costs, work or school status and other information. Similar information may be requested for all of the people in the home. Additionally, adult family members must also be fingerprinted and photo-documented. 

At the interview, the County will advise applicants of the rules which must be met to be eligible for CalWORKs. If the County determines that the applicants are eligible for CalWORKs, the family will receive monthly checks from the county welfare department until they are determined to be ineligible.

CalWORKs Work Requirements

CalWORKs provides a wide array of services and support, enabling families to enter and remain in the workforce. Parents and caretaker adults, unless exempt from work requirements, are required to participate in Welfare to Work (WTW) activities as a condition of receiving aid.

WTW activities include unsubsidized and subsidized employment, work experience, on-the-job training, grant based on-the-job training, work-study, self-employment, community service, adult basic education, job skills training, vocational education, job search/job readiness assistance, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, domestic abuse services, child care, transportation, and other activities necessary to assist recipients in obtaining employment.

An adult in a one-parent assistance unit (AU) is required to participate in WTW activities for an average of 30 hours per week each month, or 20 hours per week each month if they have a child under the age of 6. In a two-parent AU, one or both adults must participate in WTW activities for a combined total of an average of 35 hours per week.
Adults may receive a total of 24 months of flexible CalWORKs services and activities to address any barriers to employment. These 24 months need not be consecutive and can be used anytime during the adult’s 48 months of CalWORKs eligibility. Once the 24 months have been used up, adults must meet the federal work participation rate (WPR) requirements, unless they are exempted or receive an extension.

CalWORKs have a universal engagement requirement to make sure recipients are participating in appropriate WTW activities as soon as possible. Counties are required to develop WTW plans with a beneficiary within 90 days from the date they begin receiving cash aid.

CalWORKs Benefit Levels and Parental Responsibility

CalWork grant levels are set by California and the amounts vary according to family size, exempt status, and geographic location. Families in high cost-of-living areas (Region 1) receive slightly more money than families in other areas (Region 2). A family in which all adults are disabled or otherwise exempt from work requirements is eligible for the higher exempt grant amount. A non-exempt family of three with no other income, living in Region 1 currently receives a monthly grant of $704 while the same family living in Region 2 receives $670. If that family were exempt, they would receive $788 in Region 1 and $751 in Region 2.

CalWORKS encourages parental responsibility by requiring parents to immunize their aided child(ren) under the age of six, and cooperate with the child support enforcement process. Failure to meet these requirements will result in a reduction of the adult’s portion of the grant. If children age 16 and older fail to attend school and are deemed to be a chronic truant, this may result in a reduction of the child’s portion of the grant unless certain conditions apply.