Moving Beyond Welfare: What Do We Know About Former CalWORKs Recipients?
California’s welfare caseload dropped 48.7 percent between its peak in March 1995 and August 2003.2 The decline was steepest in the late 1990s and through 2000, when a healthy economy, combined with stronger work policies and supportive services enacted as part of federal welfare reform in 1996, moved thousands of families out of the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids
(CalWORKs) program.3 The CalWORKs caseload has continued to decline, although less robustly, since the economic recession of 2001.4 However, caseload reductions are not sufficient to declare welfare reform a success; helping families achieve self-sufficiency is equally important in order to move adults and children out of poverty and help families avoid returning to welfare This Update examines statewide and county-level studies of California welfare “leavers” that have been published since mid-2001.5 Studies of employment outcomes for leavers in California’s rural and agricultural counties are currently not available, despite the fact that these counties tend to have high unemployment rates and offer welfare leavers more limited job opportunities. This Update also examines recent reports that focus on leavers in other states or from a national perspective, in order to provide context for the California studies Most of these studies define welfare leavers as former recipients who have stopped receiving cash assistance for at least two consecutive months. In many states, leavers include people who have been sanctioned off welfare as punishment for not meeting program requirements. However, the maximum penalty in California for not following program rules is a reduction in the family’s cash grant, rather than termination of all cash aid. In addition, in other states, leavers include families that have been dropped from the welfare rolls due to reaching the time limit on receipt of cash aid. In California, the CalWORKs 60-month time limit applies only to adults; children continue to receive state-funded cash assistance if the family meets eligibility guidelines.6 As such, this Update does not address sanction or time limit policies or the characteristics of adults who have been sanctioned or reached state time limits. (California Budget Project)
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