CalWORKs Application Rampant Denials

During November 2023, 67% of all CalWORKs applications processed by California’s antiquated county administration system were denied. One may wonder why that is. Why would 67% of the applications be denied? California has 58 counties. They each have their unique so-called “county business practices”. These business practices generally result in creating major barriers to qualifying for CalWORKs. In fact, over 50% of the denials are generally for failure to meet the county “procedural requirements”. The November 2023 report reveals that three (3) counties, Alameda, San Francisco, and San Mateo simply refused to report their CalWORKs application data. And why should they when there are zero consequences for not reporting, unlike CalWORKs recipients who face discontinuance of all their CalWORKs benefits for refusal to report timely. So much for equity.

The report does not include data 11 counties under the guise of protecting the confidentiality of CalWORKs applicants. These include Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glen, Inyo, Lassen, Marin, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Siskiyou, Trinity, and Santa Cruz counties. Given the lack of data, we are unable to determine how many poor families in these counties were denied CalWORKs. The CalWORKs program is designed to give maximum flexibility to the county and very little flexibility to the applicants. In Los Angeles, to apply in person, one must stand in line for up to an hour to get into some of the district offices and make an application. Some counties accept applications through “call centers”. But call centers are not easily accessible to applicants who wait for 1,2 or 3 hours to make an application which is common in California. Calls regularly get disconnected during the application process. Uploaded county-requested verifications, and verifications not required by law but requested by welfare departments anyway, often do not reach the workers and are ‘lost’.

 Often, counties demand verification that is not even available to the applicant. An applicant who had previously worked months ago is asked to provide proof that they are no longer working. For instance, the place where the applicant previously worked has gone out of business, but the county still demands verification. No verification within 10 days – application denied. The law requires that CalWORKs be administered through a single state agency to comply with Welfare & Institutions Code 10500 which states:

 “Every person administering aid under any public assistance program shall conduct himself with courtesy, consideration, and respect toward applicants for and recipients of aid under that program, and shall endeavor at all times to perform his duties in such manner as to secure for every person the amount of aid to which he is entitled, without attempting to elicit any information not necessary to carry out the provisions of law applicable to the program, and without comment or criticism of any fact concerning applicants or recipients not directly related to the administration of the program.”

Clearly, counties are violating §10500 in that they do not “perform their duties in such a manner as to secure for every person the amount of aid to which he is entitled.” In fact, counties violate this law by erecting artificial barriers (procedural requirements) to prevent applicants from securing the benefits they are entitled to. Moreover, Welfare & Institutions Code § 11208 states “Caseworker services shall be made available immediately to an applicant for aid under this chapter upon the filing of his application.” In many counties, CalWORKs applicants are never assigned a caseworker in blatant violation of §11208.

TABLE # 2 shows that the statewide average for November 2023 was 67% and Humboldt County lead the pack with a 90% denial rate, followed by Yuba County coming in second at 87%, and a large county like Riverside came in 4th with a whopping 78% denial rate.