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Welfare Reform in California

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Child Welfare Research Center Welfare Reform in California In: Frame, L. et al., (2001). CalWORKS and Child Welfare: Case Management for Public Child Welfare Workers. Berkeley, CA: Child Welfare Research Center.5Instructional Guide to Chapter II Purpose: • To provide an introduction to welfare reform as it is being implemented in California. Content: • A description of CalWORKs and Alameda County’s program, specifically, provide the backdrop for the remainder of the curriculum. • Table 1.1, “Sample Calculation of Monthly Income,” gives examples of welfare and employment income calculations and compares the total monthly income of sample families at different wage rates. • Table 1.2, “CalWORKs Payment Standards,” provides a realistic look at the level of benefits that families of different sizes might receive under the current system. Use: • This section of the curriculum is meant to be used as background material for the instructor. • This section may be required reading for students to insure that all students have some familiarity with welfare reform in California. Teaching Aids: • Possible questions for discussion are included at the beginning of this chapter. • An in-class activity: Imagining Welfare-to-Work helps students gain a deeper understanding of welfare reform. • Additional activities for outside the classroom are provided at the end of the chapter. This chapter can be used to foster the following curriculum competencies: • 2.5 Student has knowledge of the special characteristics and situations of the low income family and the single parent family. • 3.13 Student has knowledge of and understands how to work collaboratively with other disciplines that are routinely involved in child welfare cases. • 3.24 Student understands the strengths and concerns of diverse community groups and is able to work with community members to enhance services for families and children. • 5.1 Student effectively negotiates with supervisor and professional colleagues, systems and community resources to further accomplish professional, client, and agency goals. • 5.3 Student can understand client and system problems from the perspective of all participants in a multidisciplinary team and can assist the team to maximize the positive contribution of each member. • 5.6 Student can effectively use advocacy skills in the organization to enhance service delivery.6• 5.8 Student demonstrates a working knowledge of the relationship process of accessing community resources available to families and children; utilizes them appropriately and updates as necessary. • 6.2 Student demonstrates knowledge of specific laws, policies, court decisions and regulations essential to child welfare services. • 6.7 Student can identify how the legislative process impacts agency policies, procedures and programs.78What is Welfare Reform? A Brief Description of California’s CalWORKs Welfare, as we know it today, is a system that provides cash assistance to qualifying low-income families on a time-limited basis, with the intent of transitioning parents into the labor force. Parents must meet a number of behavioral requirements such as participating in work-related activities, immunizing their children, and cooperating with child support enforcement. The failure to meet these requirements results in a loss of financial benefits through sanctions and penalties. Since the passage of PRWORA, federal funding is now structured in the form of block grants to states, and TANF dollars may be spent on a range of child welfare services. One implication of this block granting arrangement is that while certain aspects of welfare are federally mandated, individual states may also choose to implement more restrictive features such as specific penalties for parental non-compliance, or in some cases they can implement more expansive, supplemental programs. California is among a handful of states that have the most lenient time limits and sanctions in place (Pavetti & Bloom, 2000). For example, California families with work-related sanctions have only the “adult portion” of their grant reduced – whereas Federal law allows states to eliminate the entire family’s cash grant amount. Thus, the “child only” grant protects families from losing their entire income source. In addition, California’s welfare system is county administered, and thus not only does the California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program differ from the welfare programs in other states, but CalWORKs’ provisions vary to some extent between California counties. Counties in California “differ tremendously with respect to status of local economies and labor markets, caseload size and characteristics, expenditures on welfare-related services and approaches to decision-making and implementation” (California Budget Project, 2000, p. 4). Still, a number of key features of CalWORKs are statewide, and are listed below.i9* Families on aid at the time of the county’s implementation of CalWORKs are limited to 24 consecutive months of cash assistance; “new” applicants are eligible for 18 months with a possible 6-month extension. There are two exceptions to this: (1) there is no job available, or (2) the individual is engaged in unsubsidized employment or community service. After a one-month interruption in financial assistance, a participant may again be eligible. Both single- parent and two-parent CalWORKs families are subject to the national five-year “lifetime” limit on aid for adults. As noted above, in California families can continue to receive a “child-only” grant for eligible children, in the form of cash or vouchers. Certain individuals (e.g., kin caregivers, disabled adults) are exempt from the lifetime limit. * Single parents or caregivers must participate in work activities such as a job search, job training, community service, or paid employment for at least 32 hours per week to receive the full assistance amount, unless they are exempt. Adults in 2-parent households must be involved in 35 hours per week of welfare-to-work activities. Noncompliance results in sanction of the “adult portion” of the family’s cash grant. * Welfare-to-work activities generally include an orientation and a four-week job search, after which participants who have not obtained


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