What is CalWORKs? - Women's Foundation California

As we reflect on next steps in the Stand with Women campaign, we wanted to take a minute to provide you with more background on each of the programs we defended. Today, we’re talking about CalWORKS. 

CalWORKs, or California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program, serves some 575,000 low-income households in California.  Nearly four out of five CalWORKs participants (78.7 percent) are children.

Under CalWORKs, families qualify to receive monthly cash grants and job training. The cash grants are based on the size of the family, so for example, a family of three living in a high-cost county would qualify to receive a maximum grant of $638 per month.

To qualify for CalWORKs, a family’s monthly income must be below a certain level, which, once again, varies by family size. A family of three, for example, must earn under $1,168 per month to qualify.

In addition to cash aid, CalWORKs parents are able to take advantage of services such as job search assistance, job training and vouchers for transportation and child care.

Ultimately, the goal of CalWORKs is to support parents while they’re transitioning into workforce.

Governor Brown’s Proposed Budget

The Governor’s original budget, presented in January 2012, proposed that the monthly CalWORKs cash benefits be reduced by a whopping 27 percent for child only, safety-net and chronically sanctioned families. That meant that some 74 percent of the current CalWORKs parents would have faced harsh cash assistance reductions.

The Governor also proposed a complete restructuring of the program. In particular, he proposed to limit the time a parent can receive benefits from 48 to 24 months.

Final 2012-2013 Budget

The Assembly and Legislature reviewed the proposed budget and ultimately sent the Governor a budget that rejected most cuts to CalWORKS. Ultimately the Governor signed a final budget that rejects the major structural changes to the CalWORKs program and it rejects the deep cuts to cash assistance proposed by the Governor.

There will be no reductions to cash benefits. That is great news for California’s parents struggling to find employment and stay afloat.

However, the amount of time that CalWORKs parents can receive assistance has been reduced from 48 to 24 months, as Governor originally proposed.

That is bad news for thousands of families who rely on this financial assistance for their day-to-day survival.

The only silver lining: The final budget does allow for time extensions of additional 24 months to be given to eligible parents who satisfy federal work participation requirements. Parents who are working for 30 hours a week might be given an opportunity to continue receiving benefits after their 24 months have run out.

While we are happy to see that the cuts to cash benefits have been rejected, we are worried about the well-being of thousands of families now that the time limit has been cut to 24 months. Keep in mind that the state has already slashed CalWORKs grant levels and time limits. Just last year, the time limit was reduced to 48 months. Previously, families had up to 60 months to transition to economic self-sufficiency. Now, it’s two years.  How will our families continue surviving these cuts?

Furthermore, California’s budget problems are not over. As a result, CalWORKS, and the people who rely on it,  remain vulnerable to future cuts. The time is now for us to come up with a balanced solution – that includes raising revenues – for our budget crisis.

Helpful Links:

2012-2013 Budget Summary by the California Budget Project (PDF)

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