Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I receive welfare and still go to college or receive vocational training.

Yes. CalWORKs, the welfare-to-work program which replaced AFDC, allows you to seek an education that will help you secure a career. There are certain time limits and other rules, but you can go to school.

2. Can the Department of Social Services (County) force me to quit school?

No. But if you cannot get your course of study approved as a SIP, after you have been attending school for one year, you must comply with the required 20 hours of work activities, and the remaining 12 required hours may be education leading to employment (must be approved by your County Case Manager).

3. What is a Self-Initiated Program?

If you are already in school before you apply for cash aid (CalWORKs), you are a Self-Initiated Program (SIP) participant. If you are SIP, you have a right to remain in school.  The County must approve your course of study.

4. What is an “approvable” SIP?

An “approvable” SIP is one where:

  • you will earn a degree or certificate, and
  • you are making “satisfactory progress,” and
  • your program “leads to employment.”

If you already have a four-year college degree, you can only be in a SIP if you are studying to earn a teaching credential.

5. What is “satisfactory progress?”

Each county decides what satisfactory progress is. The County’s policy must be in writing.  In general, satisfactory progress is defined by the educational institution you are attending (you are receiving passing grades in your classes) and making progress toward your degree or certificate.

6. When does a SIP’s course of study “lead to employment?”

A SIP’s course of study leads to employment if it is on the list of education and training programs the County and community colleges develop each year. Ask your County Case Manager or the college for a copy of this list.

7. What if my course of study is not on my County’s list?

If your course of study (major) is not on the County’s list, they must give you an opportunity to demonstrate that the program will lead to employment. The County must give you clear written instructions on how to accomplish this. Ask your college CalWORKs Counselor for help.  Job announcements, statistics from EDD (Employment Development Department) and statements from employers can be used to show your course of study will lead to employment. If the County denies your SIP, ask to change to a SIP that can be approved. If the County refuses, or if you don’t want to change, ask for a State Hearing.

8. How do I request a State Hearing?

You have the right to request a hearing if you disagree with any decision made by the County. You have only 90 days to request a hearing.  The 90 days starts the day after the County gave or mailed you a Notice of Action. In order to request a Hearing, you can use the Hearing Form located on the back of correspondence from the County, or you can contact the State at (800) 952-5253. If you request a Hearing prior to being sanctioned, your aid and supportive services (child care, transportation, etc.) will not be cut while you are waiting for a decision.

9. Can my County Case Manager inform me verbally that my SIP is denied?

No. State regulations require that the County give students a written notice if a SIP is denied.  Insist on a written notice, and request a state hearing if you disagree.  You can request a hearing even if the County refuses to give you a written notice.

10. Do I have to use my college financial aid for child care or other expenses that could be covered by CalWORKs?

No. However you will need to complete a Welfare-to-Work Form, in which you state that you do not want to use your financial aid to cover your childcare and other school-related expenses.

11. Can I still get CalWORKs if I get financial aid?

Yes. Most college loans, grants and work study are “excluded income.” That means your cash aid should not be reduced because you receive financial aid.

12. If I buy a computer for school, will it affect my CalWORKs grant?

No. Families receiving CalWORKs are allowed to own personal computers even if they are not used for school.

13. Am I required to work to fulfill my county WTW hours?

Some students are required to work. This will depend on your WTW Plan Activity Assignment that you completed with your county case worker. Some exemptions also still exist.  Contact your county case worker for a copy of your Plan and work with the SCC CalWORKs Case Manager and or SCC CalWORKs Job Developer to implement the plan should you need to fulfill work hours.

14. If I am in a SIP, do I also have to work?

It depends on your circumstances. All SIPs have to fulfill the required 32 hours per week in an approved activity, which includes class lecture and lab, on-campus supervised study labs, internship programs, work study, work or other welfare-to-work activities. If these activities don’t add up to 32 hours, you will have to participate in additional activities. A part-time job would qualify. If you don’t have a job, the County can assign you to other welfare-to-work activities, such as, job search or additional education or training. But the County must count all your school, lab, supervised study lab and internship hours before deciding how many other hours you can be assigned to additional activities. The additional activities cannot interfere with your SIP.

15. Does study time count toward my hours?

Yes, on-campus supervised study lab hours do count towards your weekly activity requirements. Your college CalWORKs counselor will inform you as to how many study hours are allowed, which does depend on your class schedule.

16. Does work-study count toward my 32 hours?

Yes. The County must count work-study toward either a SIP’s or Vocational Training Referral student’s 32 hours. If your County case manager has informed you that work study doesn’t count, please inform your college CalWORKs counselor immediately.

17. Does the money I earn from Work Study count against my cash aid or food stamps?

No, as long as the money you earn is from CalWORKs Work Study funds or Federal Work Study funds, it does not count against your cash aid or food stamps.

18. I have a learning disability. Does my extra study time count toward my 32 hours?

If you have been diagnosed with a learning disability, the additional time you need counts toward your 32 hours. These hours may also count toward the 20-core hour requirement.

19. Can the county refuse to count elective courses toward my 32 hours?

No. Any course that counts toward your degree or certificate must be counted toward your 32 hours.

20. Can my SIP be approved if I am enrolled in a school program but I haven’t started classes yet?

Yes. State law says your SIP can be approved if you are enrolled. You don’t have to be actually attending classes yet if school hasn’t started, as long as you have already been accepted at your school prior to your CalWORKs Appraisal.

21. If my SIP is approved, how long can I stay in it?

Your SIP can count toward your required CalWORKs hours until you complete your SIP or up until your reach your 60 month time limit on CalWORKs.

22. If my SIP can’t be approved, will I be sanctioned if I don’t quit school?

No. State law says that even if your SIP isn’t approved, you can stay in school until the end of the quarter or semester you are currently in. The County must pay for childcare, transportation and other supportive services you need during that time. At the end of quarter or semester you have the right to transfer to an approvable SIP.

23. What supportive services am I entitled to while I am receiving CalWORKs?

With the understanding that you remain in compliance with your 32 hour weekly activity requirement, you are entitled to receive child care, transportation (bus pass or mileage reimbursement to and from approved CalWORKs activities) and books.

With regard to child care the County must pay for child care for your children 10 years old and younger, and for 11 & 12 year-olds if funding is available. You can also get child care for your older children who have special needs. Child care is available:

  • While you are in education, training or any other activity as part of your welfare-to-work plan, or
  • While finishing the quarter or semester in a SIP which cannot be approved, or
  • If you need it as “post-employment” services.

24. Can a teen parent who received a high school diploma while participating in Cal-Learn, be approved as a SIP?

Yes, as long as she is enrolled in school prior to her CalWORKs Appraisal.

25. Do I have to quit school if I am offered a job?

No. You can refuse to accept a job or participate in other activities that would interfere with school.

26. I had to quit my SIP, can I go back later?

Yes, if you had a “good cause” for quitting. Good cause includes lack of childcare, domestic violence, illness or a family crisis.

27. What happens during school breaks?

During school breaks of more than a week, the County can assign you to other activities.  The County can’t require you to do anything that interferes with your approved SIP or Vocational Training.  If the County sends you to Job Search, for example, you don’t have to accept a job that would interfere with school.

28.  What if I already signed a “welfare to work plan” because I didn’t realize I could be approved as a SIP?

You have the right to ask for a change within three days of signing a plan. Call your County Case Manager if you signed within the last three days. If more than three days have passed, ask for a hearing.

29. Can I get education and training if I already have a job?

Maybe. If you already have a job and you still receive CalWORKs you may get education as part of your welfare-to-work plan.  You need to inform your County Case Manager that you want to go to school. They may send you to an Assessment, which includes two days of educational and vocational testing. Based on the recommendations of the Assessment Report, you may be allowed to participate in school as part of your Welfare-to-Work Plan.

You may also qualify for up to one year of “post-employment” services after you close your CalWORKs case due to employment. Post-employment services include the following:

  • Child care (for 12 months after your case closes and you remain employed),
  • Transportation (bus pass or mileage reimbursement).

30. Will I lose all of my family’s aid if I get sanctioned?

No. Only the parent’s portion of the CalWORKs cash aid grant is cut if the parent does not comply with the required welfare-to-work activity hours. In addition, you will also lose other CalWORKs supportive services, which includes child care, bus pass or mileage reimbursement and books. Everyone in the family should still receive Medi-Cal and Food Stamps.

31. How does the sanction process work?

There are several steps in the sanction process. The county must send you a Notice of Action, informing you that you failed to participate in your assigned activity. The letter will give you an appointment time to meet with your County Case Manager, in order to discuss why you did not comply.

  • If you ignore the letter, your aid will be reduced on the date mentioned in the letter, unless you ask for a State Hearing before the date the reduction is to happen.
  • If you decide to be sanctioned, at any time during your sanction, you can contact your County Case Manager and inform them that you want to comply so the sanction can be lifted.  Prior to July 12, 2006,  there used to be a waiting period before a sanction could be lifted. This regulation was amended with ACL #06-27.

32. How can I learn more about the CalWORKs regulations?

Many important information about SIPs, Vocational Training Referrals, and learning disabilities are in All County Letters (ACL’s) posted on the State Department of Social Services website. For SIP rules: see ACL’s 99-32 and 99-38. For core/non-core work requirement: see ACL 04-41. For learning disabilities: ACL 01-70.

Also contact LIFETIME (Low-Income Families’ Empowerment through Education) at www.geds-to-phds.org.  LIFETIME is a non-profit organization created by student mothers at UC Berkeley who completed college degrees while raising their families on welfare, and is committed to empowering low-income parents to achieve their educational and career goals.