How Long Can You Collect Welfare in California?

California offers multiple programs to residents in financial need.

With an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent as of Nov. 2010, California families' need for public welfare benefits in 2010 increased after decreasing and leveling off over the previous decade. Over half a million families receive cash assistance and more than three million California residents receive food assistance. California offers its residents a variety of welfare programs, but recipients must contend with the fact that many benefits are limited.


CalWorks for Non-Disabled Parents

The CalWorks program pays cash benefits to parents and their minor children if the family's income and resources fall within certain limits. For a one-parent family, the parent must work at least 32 hours weekly either at a job, vocational training or community service work to receive benefits. Two parents must work a total of 35 hours weekly. Unless a parent meets an exception, the total number of months of eligibility in a lifetime is 60 -- not necessarily consecutive. Some months do not count toward the limit, such as months a parent was disabled or needed to provide care for a dependent to avoid the child's placement in foster care.


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Exceptions to CalWorks Time Limits

The 60-month limit on cash assistance from CalWorks does not apply to minor children. It also does not apply to parents who must care for a disabled family member in their home or care for a child who is a ward of the court. The limit does not apply to a disabled parent or a parent receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income disability benefits, workers' compensation or State Disability Insurance. Victims of domestic violence may receive an exemption to time-limited eligibility if their county of residence deems an exemption appropriate.


General Relief

General Relief – or General Assistance -- programs are financed and administered by each of the 58 California counties. The program provides cash assistance to impoverished adults who are not eligible -- or have applications still pending -- for assistance from federal, state or county programs. The length of eligibility for assistance varies from county to county. In Los Angeles County, nondisabled recipients capable of working can receive GR for up to 12 months. Benefits are not time-limited for disabled recipients. Sacramento County's General Assistance program allows employable recipients to receive benefits for up to 90 days during any 12-month period – including days eligible for the same program in another county.


Food Assistance

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – SNAP – is a federal program in partnership with individual states. California calls its program CalFresh. Recipients who are at least age 18 and do not care for a minor child must work at least 20 hours weekly or perform county-approved job-related learning or community service activities. Adult recipients who do not meet the work-hours requirement can receive food stamps for only three months within any period of 36 months. Each county provides exceptions to the work requirement and months of eligibility, such as recipients with temporary or permanent disabilities.College students are eligible only if they are full-time students and either work at least 20 hours weekly or care for a minor child.