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Manual for Grandparent-Relative Caregivers and Their Advocates:
Dependency Proceedings
Getting a Child out of a Shelter
Visitation Rights of Grandparents
When Permanent Custody is Necessary
Foster Care
Public Benefits
Relative Caregivers Options Chart
School Issues
Statewide Listings for County Boards of Education
Resource Guide Statewide
Resource Guide Northern California
Resource Guide Central California
Resource Guide Southern California
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Women in Prison
Public Benefits
  1. What kind of help can I get while I am taking care of a child in need?
  2. What is CalWORKs, and am I eligible for CalWORKs?
  3. What if I am not a citizen? Can I get CalWORKs?
  4. How do I apply for CalWORKs?
  5. How can I prepare a "Power of Attorney" agreement?
  6. How long does it take to process a CalWORKs application?
  7. What can I do if my application is denied?
  8. How do I request a state hearing?
  9. What is the Food Stamps program and am I eligible to receive participate?
  10. How do I apply for the Food Stamps program?
  11. What is Medi-Cal? What is Healthy Families? Are there other health programs? Can I and a child in my care qualify?
  12. Can I get help with child care expenses?
  13. What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and how can it help my child? What is California’s Cash Assistance Program for immigrants (CAPI)?
  14. I have heard that the SSI process is very long and time consuming. We are just on the borderline for financial eligibility. Should I apply for SSI?
  15. What are the State AFDC-Foster Care and the Federal AFDC-Foster Care programs?
  16. What is Kin-GAP?
  17. What is the Adoption Assistance Payment Program?
  18. Power of Attorney Form

1. What kind of help can I get while I am taking care of a child in need?

A grandparent or relative who is taking care of a child may be eligible to receive assistance through publicly funded programs, such as: CalWORKs, Food Stamps, Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, Supplemental Security Income, Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants, Federal AFDC-Foster Care, KinGAP, or the Adoption Assistance Payment Program. Child care and other support services may also be available.

Depending on the program, the assistance may be for the child, for the caregiver, or both.

Some of the public programs may also be available to caregivers who are not related to the child.

We have summarized the major public programs here. For more information or help applying, we recommend contacting the county, a local Legal Services program or other community organization listed in the Resources at the end of this Manual. These organizations may also be able to tell you whether there are privately funded assistance programs in your local community, too.

2. What is CalWORKs, and am I eligible for CalWORKs?

CalWORKs provides certain low-income families with monthly cash assistance to help pay for basic needs such as food, clothing, or rent. CalWORKs replaces Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which ended in California on January 1, 1998.

Grandparents and Other Caretaker Relatives May Qualify for CalWORKs

Relatives may qualify for CalWORKs for themselves and a related child if the child is deprived of parental support or care.

For CalWORKs purposes, a “relative” is a person related to a child, by birth or adoption, as one of the following: (1) father, mother, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, or any of these who are grand-, great-, or great-great-; (2) stepfather, stepmother, stepbrother, or stepsister; or (3) the spouse of any of the relatives described in (1) or (2) above, even after the marriage is ended by death or divorce.

A child is considered “deprived” if at least one of his/her biological parents is:

  • Deceased;
  • Continuously Absent;
  • Incapacitated (Doctor verifies that a disability or illness prevents the parent from working for at least 30 days); or
  • Unemployed (with certain qualifications).

Income Limits for Eligibilty

In order to qualify for CalWORKs the monthly income of the family with which the child lives must also be below certain limits. The income limits are based on a family's size.

Not all of the income a family has is counted toward the limit. For example,$90 of income from the job of each adult is deducted each month, and there are also deductions for expenses a family pays for childcare or to care for a disabled family member. Some income (for example, the SSI income that a grandparent or one of the children in the family gets) doesn't count at all. Please check with the county or your local Legal Services about the income counting rules.

Resource Limit for Eligibility

In addition to income limits, CalWORKs also has a "resource" limit. Some resources, like the house you live in, clothing and household furniture, are not counted toward the limit.

Usually, the resource limit for a family is $2,000. But caretaker relatives who are 60 or older may have up to $3,000 in resources and still qualify for CalWORKs. In addition, for all families, there is a higher resource limit for a car: $4,560 of the fair market value or higher if the car is used for certain purposes, including to transport a disabled household member.

Whose Income and Resources Count in Grandparent Families?

Grandparents who are not themselves eligible for CalWORKs can still apply as "non-needy caretaker relatives" for their grandchildren. In this situation, the welfare department should not count the grandparents' income or resources in deciding whether the grandchild is eligible for CalWORKs (or the amount of the grant for the child, see below).

A minor parent, that is, a parent who is under 18, may apply for CalWORKs to help care for his or her child. A minor parent must live with his or her parents to be eligible for CalWORKs, unless an exception applies. If the minor parent does live with his or her parents, the welfare department will include the countable income and resources of the grandparents in deciding whether the grandchild is eligible for CalWORKs only if the grandparents will also be getting CalWORKs for themselves. In contrast, the grandparents’ countable income and resources will always be included to decide whether the minor parent is eligible; this is so even if the grandparents are not eligible or are eligible but choose not to accept a CalWORKs check for themselves.

Persons Convicted of Drug-Related Felonies After 12/31/97; “Fleeing” Felons; and Parole or Probation Violators

The following individuals are excluded from CalWORKs:

  • A person convicted of a state or federal felony involving a controlled substance after December 31, 1997 (W&IC Section 11251.3);
  • A person fleeing to avoid prosecution, custody or confinement after being convicted of a state or federal felony (W&IC Section 11486.5(a)(1). An arrest warrant is evidence of fleeing. (CalWORKs Manual of Policies and Procedures (MPP), Section 82-832(k).) But a person who can prove they did not know they were being sought by law enforcement can be excepted from the “fleeing felon” rule even if a warrant was issued. (MPP Section 82-832(k));
  • A person in violation of a condition of probation or parole. The underlying offense does not have to be a felony.(W&IC Section 11486.5(a)(2); MPP Section 82-832(j).)

In the case of a family member who is excluded from CalWORKS because of a drug felony, the rest of the family members may participate in CalWORKs if they are eligible, but they will not receive cash. Instead, the county will issue vendor or voucher payments for at least rent and utilities in the amount of the grant for the eligible family members. Welfare & Institutions Code §§ 11251.3(b), MMP Section 44-307.11.

60-Month Time Limit

Unlike the old AFDC program, CalWORKs has time limits. Generally, an adult may receive CalWORKs benefits only for up to 60 months (5 years) over his or her lifetime.

Once the 60-month time limit has been reached, only the children in the family can receive benefits, and the adult caretaker will not be eligible for General Assistance or General Relief until the child reaches 18.

There are some exceptions to the 60-month time limit. The main exceptions are for parents or other caretaker relatives who, in the 61st month, are one or more of the following:

  • age 60 or over;
  • unable to work for at least 30 days, with verification from a doctor or proof of receiving certain benefits for people with disabilities, such as In-Home Supportive Services, State Disability, and others;
  • unable to work because of caretaker responsibilities for a child who is a dependent of the court or at risk of becoming one, or for an incapacitated household member; or
  • an abuse victim or survivor in certain situations.

Welfare & Institutions Code § 11454.5(c).

Welfare-to-Work Activities

CalWORKs also requires participants to do "welfare-to-work" activities to get them ready for a job before the 60-month time limit is up. These activities may include basic education, job training, community service, searching for or even working at a job.

CalWORKs is also supposed to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment services and services for survivors of domestic violence for individuals who need such service to prepare for work.

Usually, an adult must participate in welfare-to-work activities for up to 18 months (or 24 months for adults who were receiving AFDC on January 1, 1998, when the program switched to CalWORKs).

The exceptions from the 60-month time limit listed above also apply to the 18 and 24-month welfare-to-work participation requirements. In addition, there is a one-time exception from the welfare-to-work participation requirements in certain situations for the caretaker of an infant. In most counties, the exception applies until the infant reaches six months, but some counties limit it to three months, while others extend it to 12 months.

Other Requirements for CalWORKs

Adults will have to have their fingerprints taken to qualify for CalWORKs.

A family has to show that their children under age 6 have been immunized to get CalWORKs for all family members. The part of the CalWORKs check for the adults in the family will be cut out if proof of immunization is not given to the county, unless an exception applies. Exceptions are written medical reason from a doctor for not immunizing the child, the family doesn't believe in immunizations, or proof that immunizations aren't reasonably available to the family.

Families must also show that their children under 16 are attending school; otherwise, the adults' part of the check will be cut. If children 16 or over do not attend school, the part of the check for the teen will be cut.

Adults, including grandparents and other caretaker relatives, must also cooperate with child support enforcement efforts against the child's absent parent, unless an exception applies.

A major exception from the child support cooperation requirement is for survivors of domestic violence. Counties may also exempt survivors of domestic violence from the immunization and school attendance requirements, or give them more time to comply.

There are certain additional requirements for teen parents to get CalWORKs. Please contact your local Legal Services if you need more information about teen parents.

The Amount of the CalWORKs Grant

The amount of money a family receives each month from the CalWORKs program depends on the family’s total countable income and how many people are in the "assistance unit." Different regions in the state pay different amounts.

3. What if I am not a citizen? Can I get CalWORKs?

If you are not a U.S. citizen, to be eligible for CalWORKs you must show proof that you are a lawful permanent resident (have a “green card”) or another type of “qualified alien,” such as a refugee, a Cuban or Haitian entrant, a battered spouse or child who has met certain other conditions, a person granted political asylum or withholding of deportation or who is allowed to live in the U.S. under "color of law," and others.

However, receipt of CalWORKs might hurt your chances of changing your status later.

If you have questions about which immigrants can qualify for CalWORKs or whether benefits could affect your immigration status, please contact one of the Legal Services or immigrants’ rights groups listed in the Resources at the end of this Manual.

4. How do I apply for CalWORKs?

Go to the social services or welfare department or to a CalWORKs “One-Stop” Center in your county. If you need help finding out where to go, contact a Legal Services or other community organization listed in the Appendices at the end of this Manual.

You will receive an initial one-page application. After you turn in your application, a screening worker will review it. If the worker finds that you may be eligible for CalWORKs, you will be given more forms to fill out and another appointment will be scheduled. This "intake appointment" must be scheduled within one week. The county is required to help you fill out the forms if you ask for help and to tell you what documents you need to bring in to support your application. In addition, the county must assist you in obtaining documents or other information needed from third parties. Welfare & Institutions §§11052.5, 11275, 11275.10

Make sure that you have a birth certificate for the child, particularly if the child has a last name which is different from your last name. It will also be helpful if you have a written statement that the parent has signed authorizing you to receive CalWORKs for the child in the parent's absence. This document is sometimes called a "Power of Attorney."

5. How can I prepare a "Power of Attorney"?

The "Power of Attorney" is a simple written agreement between the mother or father and the caregiver of the child which gives the caregiver permission to do things for the child, such as receive CalWORKs for the child, obtain routine medical care, and take care of school, child care or other matters. The language of the Power of Attorney form should make it clear that the parent retains legal custody of his or her child, that the agreement is only for the period of the parents' absence, and that it can be ended at anytime. You’ll find a sample Power of Attorney at the end of this chapter.

Although the Power of Attorney is useful for some limited purposes, such as helping to qualify a relative to receive CalWORKs, it is not a legally binding custody agreement. It does not have the authority of a court order, and it will not authorize a non-relative or distant relative to receive CalWORKs. If you are a friend, a distant relative, or a relative in a different state than the parent, it is often advisable that you be appointed the legal guardian of the child by a court.

6. How long does it take to process a CalWORKs application?

The welfare department must either approve or deny an application within 45 days, with one exception. If a family is not eligible at the time of application, but it appears the family will be eligible in 60 days, the county can wait the 15 extra days to make its decision.

If an applicant has less than $100 and needs money for food, rent, utilities or other basic needs and appears eligible for CalWORKs, the county must provide up to $200 of "immediate need" money within two working days from the time the money is requested. If an immediate need check is issued, the county must process your CalWORKs application within 15 working days. Welfare & Institutions Code §11266.

7. What can I do if my application is denied?

If the screening worker who handles your case claims that you are not eligible or if your application is denied by anyone during any stage, you must be given a written denial notice. Do not sign a withdrawal form because you may not be able to challenge the denial at a later time.

If at any time you feel your case is being mishandled, you have a right to request a "Fair Hearing" to have the county welfare department's actions reviewed. This includes any time that you feel that your case has been unfairly denied or discontinued, that you are not receiving adequate benefits, or that you feel your screening worker or eligibility worker is mistreating you.

It is important that you get receipts for all documents you turn in, keep a copy of all forms and documents relating to your CalWORKs case, and keep track of all conversations and attempted contacts with county personnel.

8. How do I request a state hearing?

When you receive your written denial notice, you can fill out the hearing request form on the back to ask for a "Fair Hearing” and send it in; keep a copy for yourself.

If you have not received a written denial notice, call 1-800-952-5253 to ask for a hearing; also ask them to send you a blank hearing request form, fill it out, and send it in, too, keeping a copy for yourself.

You have 90 days from the date of the Notice of Action or the date that you knew or should have known of the wrongful action/inaction by the county to request a hearing.

When you fill out the hearing request form, you must state that you want a hearing and explain why you feel that you or your case has been treated unfairly or inappropriately.

The hearings take place before an administrative law judge and are supposed to be informal.

9. What is the Food Stamps program and am I eligible to participate?

The Food Stamps program provides for food or seeds and plants to grow food. You cannot, however, use a Food Stamps card for diapers, toilet paper, tobacco, alcohol, pet food or hot foods prepared for immediate consumption.

If you are a grandparent or a caregiver receiving CalWORKs, then you are entitled to participate in the Food Stamps program. If your grandchild or the child for whom you are caring is also getting CalWORKs, the child is also entitled to participate in the Food Stamps program. Most General Assistance (GA) recipients are also eligible. However, persons receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are not eligible for the Food Stamps program.

10. How do I apply for the Food Stamps program?

If you are applying for CalWORKs, then you can apply for Food Stamps at the same time. If you are a grandparent or a caregiver who does not qualify for CalWORKs, you may still be eligible to get Food Stamps if your income is below the countable income and resources limits for the Food Stamps program.

11. What is Medi-Cal? What is Healthy Families? Are there other health programs? Can I and a child in my care qualify?

Medi-Cal is an insurance program that pays for medical, dental, vision and mental health care for certain low-income adults and children. Medi-Cal can also help pay for Medicare Part B premiums for seniors and disabled people.

Automatic Medi-Cal Eligibility for Some

A person getting SSI or CalWORKs is automatically eligible for Medi-Cal. Children who are in foster care or who are receiving Kin-GAP or Adoption Assistance benefits (discussed below) also automatically qualify for Medi-Cal. In addition, children who turn 18 while in foster care are automatically eligible to continue receiving Medi-Cal until they turn 21.

Other Kinds of Medi-Cal Eligibility

But neither an adult nor a child has to be receiving cash assistance or any other benefits to qualify for Medi-Cal.

If you have a grandchild or other related child under 21 in your care, you may qualify if you meet Medi-Cal’s income, resource, and other eligibility rules. This is so even if you have a job. Adults over 65 or of any age who are blind or disabled may also qualify for Medi-Cal even if they work. Pregnant women may also qualify.

Low-income children may qualify for Medi-Cal in situations where their caretakers do not.

Immigrants and Medi-Cal

Immigrants who are not U.S. citizens can qualify for Medi-Cal for emergency, pregnancy-related, breast and cervical cancer screening and treatment, and long-term care, even if they are undocumented.

To qualify for the “full-scope” of Medi-Cal benefits, an immigrant who is not a United States citizen must be in one of the categories of “qualified aliens.” These are the same as for CalWORKS (see above).

Medi-Cal Mail-In Application

Medi-Cal now has a mail-in application for adults as well as children who choose not to go to the welfare office to apply in person.

Healthy Families

The Healthy Families program covers children with family income over the amounts for free Medi-Cal. Families with children in this program must pay a small monthly premium to participate. At present, the program only covers children, not adults. Undocumented immigrants cannot qualify for Health Families.

Other Health Programs

There may be other state, county, clinic, or private health programs to help you and the children in your care.

For more information about Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, or other health programs, and how to apply, please see the Resources at the end of this Manual.

12. Can I get help with child care expenses?

Grandparents and other relative caregivers may be eligible for assistance to pay for childcare for children up to age 14, or, for children who are severely handicapped, up to age 21. Note, however, that there are long waiting lists for most subsidized childcare programs.

To qualify, the family must meet three tests.

First, the family must have a neglected, abused, or exploited child or a child who is at risk of any of these, or the family must be homeless or receiving CalWORKs or have income at or below 75% of the state median, which is a little over $30,000 a year for a family of 3 (Category 1).

Next, the child needing childcare services must also be identified by a legal, medical or social service agency or emergency shelter as neglected, abused, or exploited or at risk of any of these, or as receiving services from Child Protective Services (CPS) or as having a medical or psychiatric special need for childcare. If the child is none of these, then the parents must be in vocational training leading to employment, employed or seeking work, seeking permanent housing, or so incapacitated as to required childcare (Category 2).

Finally, to receive a childcare subsidy, an applicant must be high on the following priority list, with number one being the highest priority: (1) children receiving services from CPS; (2) children at risk of neglect, abuse or exploitation; (3) the lowest income families; and (4) for families of equal income, according to their length of time on the waiting list.

Please contact your county welfare department or one of the organizations listed in the Resources section at the end of this manual for more information about how to apply for assistance in paying for childcare.

13. What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and how can it help my child? What is California’s Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI)?


SSI is a cash benefit program for low-income persons 65 years and over and for blind and disabled persons of any age.

A child who is financially needy and blind or disabled may also qualify for SSI.

To qualify for SSI, a person's income and resources must be below certain limits.

SSI benefits are more than CalWORKs and sometimes more than AFDC-Foster Care benefits (discussed below). The money for SSI comes from the federal government through the Social Security Administration.

The rules on immigrants' eligibility for SSI have become very complex since the 1996 federal welfare reform law. In general, the rules are tougher for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. after August 22, 1996, even if they entered the U.S. legally (for example, with a "green card.") These "new" legal immigrants generally will not qualify for SSI until they have been in the U.S. 5 years and have credit with the Social Security Administration for 40 quarters (10 years) of work.

California Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants

Aged (over 65) or disabled immigrants who do not qualify for SSI because of their immigration status may qualify for California’s Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI). The money for CAPI comes from the state, and applications are taken at the county.

For more information about SSI or CAPI eligibility for immigrants, please contact a local Legal Services or other community-based organization from the lists provided in the Resources at the end of this Manual.

Children and SSI

Children with health problems, including drug-exposed infants, may qualify for SSI benefits. Social Security considers a child to be disabled if that child's physical or mental "impairment" is severe. In assessing the child's impairment, Social Security considers both medical and non-medical evidence about how the impairment affects the child's functioning in daily life. This means that not only should a child's medical record be submitted with the application, but also narrative reports from parents, child care workers, teachers, and therapists about how the child functions in daily life.

Social Security has its own listings of physical and mental health problems with separate age-specific descriptions. If the child's condition appears in this listing, and the family's income and resources are under the SSI limits, the child is eligible for SSI.

If the child's condition is not listed, Social Security must go through two other steps before it has completed its evaluation. It must determine whether the child's condition is medically or functionally as serious as a listed impairment. If it is, then the child can be eligible. If not, then Social Security must ask if the impairments keep the child from doing the everyday things most children of the same age do. This is called doing an evaluation for an "individualized functional impairment."

14. I have heard that the SSI process is very long and time consuming. We are just on the borderline for financial eligibility. Should I apply for SSI?

Yes. SSI cash benefits are generally higher than CalWORKs benefits and provide a much-needed resource for low-income families trying to care for children with severe developmental problems. In addition, children who are eligible for even $1 of SSI are automatically enrolled in Medi-Cal's disability program and receive medical treatment including vision, dental, psychological and developmental services.

For these reasons, grandparents and their advocates should consider applying for SSI benefits on behalf of their grandchildren with any form of physical or mental disability even though it may be difficult for you or the child's parent to acknowledge that your grandchild may be disabled or to consider having the child assessed for possible disability by a doctor.

It is important that you request an application as soon as you think your grandchild might be eligible for SSI since, if the child is found eligible, payment will be retroactive to the first date of your request. This means that if the application isn't granted until months or even years after you submit it, the retroactive award will be for all that time and can be quite large.

For more information on SSI and how to apply, please refer to the Resource section at the end of this Manual. Applications should be available at the local Social Security Offices or call 1-800-772-1213 (7am-7pm).

15. What are the State AFDC-Foster Care and the Federal AFDC-Foster Care programs?

State AFDC-Foster Care and Federal AFDC-Foster Care are two separate programs. Under each program, payments are made to certain caregivers to help them care for a child. Foster care program payments are higher than CalWORKs payments. The exact amount depends on the child's age and may include an additional "special needs" payment to help care for a disabled child. Foster care benefits last until the child turns 18, or, in some situations, until 19.

State Foster Care Is for Children Being Cared for by Non-Relatives in Certain Situations

A child may qualify for State AFDC-Foster Care only if living with non-relatives and the child was either placed with the non-relatives by the Juvenile Court after being made a dependent, or the non-relatives have become the child's legal guardian with an order from the Probate Court.

State foster care lasts until the child turns 18, or, in some situations, until 19.

Children Being Cared for by Relatives May Qualify for Federal Foster Care, But Only If There's A Juvenile Court Order of Dependency

A child being cared for by a relative may qualify for Federal AFDC-Foster Care, but only if the child was placed with the relative by the Juvenile Court after being made a dependent.

Many grandparents and other relative caregivers, however, are unwilling to initiate or participate in the court proceedings to declare a child a dependent; this is because in a dependency proceeding, the state must prove that the parent has been neglectful or abusive to the child. Many relatives are understandably reluctant to testify against the parent; they realize that such actions could build distrust and jeopardize their efforts towards realizing family reunification. Often, the family wants to prevent the obtrusive presence of Child Protective Services.

Children living with non-relatives cannot qualify for the Federal AFDC-Foster Care program.

Because of these strict rules for foster care benefits, some children will not qualify for either the State or the Federal AFDC-Foster Care program: these include children being cared for by grandparents or other relatives without having been made a dependent of the Juvenile Court. However, some of these children as well as their relative caregivers may qualify for CalWORKs, with lower benefits.

16. What is Kin-GAP?

Kin-GAP is the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment program. It is an option started in January 2000 for certain children who have been living with relatives as Juvenile Court dependents and who the relative is unable or unwilling to adopt.

All the following conditions must be met to qualify for Kin-GAP:

  • The caregiver is a relative;
  • The child has been living with the relative for at least 12 continuous months;
  • The child has been made a dependent of the Juvenile Court;
  • Dependency status is terminated by the Juvenile Court after January 1, 2000; and
  • The relative caregiver is made the legal guardian under the Juvenile Court's permanency plan for the child.

Kin-GAP payments are equal to the foster care rate in your county. However, unlike the State and Federal AFDC-Foster Care programs, there is no special needs payment for a disabled child in Kin-Gap.

Kin-GAP lasts until the child turns 18, or, in some situations, until 19.

Kin-GAP payments are made by the county in which the child was made a dependent of the Juvenile Court, no matter where the family lives at the time of seeking benefits.

17. What is the Adoption Assistance Payment Program?

If you adopt your grandchild or other child, you may be eligible for the Adoption Assistance Payment Program (AAPP). There is no income eligibility test for a family to qualify for the AAPP. The amount of the payment is based on the needs of the child and the circumstances of the family.

Adoptive families may continue to receive benefits until the child is 18 or, if the child has a mental or physical disability, until 21.


Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
1540 Market St., Suite 490  •  San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 255-7036  •