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Understanding CalWORKS: A Primer for Service Providers and Policymakers (2nd Edition)

Created by PHI's California Center for Research on Women & Families, this primer provides an in-depth orientation to California's welfare program - the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Act, known as CalWORKs. CalWORKs provides eligible needy families with time-limited cash assistance grants and welfare-to-work services.

  • Kate Karpilow, Diane Reed
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Created by PHI's California Center for Research on Women & Families, this primer provides an in-depth orientation to California's welfare program—the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Act, known as CalWORKs. CalWORKs provides eligible needy families with time-limited cash assistance grants and welfare-to-work services.

Read the primer. 

Included in this review are:

  • An overview of the federal and state laws and agencies that govern or affect welfare and welfare-to-work programs.

  • Information on the program structure and funding streams of county CalWORKs programs.

  • A profile of California’s CalWORKs families.

  • A summary of key issues under discussion by federal, state, and local policymakers.

The passage of federal welfare reform in 1996 and subsequent reauthorization in 2005 set in motion an enormous shift in how welfare programs are administered, funded, and organized around the country and in California.

In 2010, in the midst of a national recession, high unemployment rates, and increased TANF caseloads, the United States Congress is scheduled to deliberate reauthorization of the federal welfare program—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). California’s policymakers and advocates will not only be important stakeholders in this debate; they will also be responsible for working together to modify CalWORKs, California’s TANF program, to align with changes in the federal law.

As policymakers and social service professionals embark on yet another chapter of TANF reauthorization and, at the same time, continue with their responsibilities for program management and service delivery, this primer is intended to help inform stewardship of California’s welfare system.


Understanding CalWORKs is one in a series of primers published by the California Center for Research on Women and Families to assist practitioners and policy leaders in advancing their basic knowledge of complex social services systems.

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