California Low-Income Help

California offers food assistance programs to help families buy groceries.
California offers food assistance programs to help families buy groceries. (Image: bread in shop image by david hughes from

California offers its low-income residents both federal assistance programs and state assistance programs. Low-income residents must apply through their local California Department of Social Services office for eligibility determinations for each program. Program requirements vary but typically limit eligibility to legal California residents and permanent residents seeking political asylum. Generally, income determinations depend upon the annual federal poverty guidelines.

Cash Assistance

California provides its Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients with a special state subsidy added to their monthly federal SSI allowance. Since California adds the subsidy to the SSI federal benefit, SSI recipients in California do not qualify for food stamps. SSI eligibility is limited to low-income individuals age 65 and older or low-income disabled individuals of any age. A disabled Californian in 2010 received monthly subsidies between $845 and $1,086 monthly, depending upon his living needs.

Work Programs

California offers several cash assistance services for low-income families. Programs such as “CalWORKS” provide training, education and employment opportunities to help families achieve self-sufficiency. In addition to cash assistance, families receive help to pay for child care and transportation for work-related expenses. Eligibility depends upon the family’s size and household income.

Food Stamps

California provides low-income families with food stamps through its “CalFresh” program. The food stamp program allows eligible families to obtain monthly food allowances electronically through an electronic benefits card. Families may purchase most food supplies at local markets that accept the electronic debit cards. The average benefit amount is $200 monthly. Eligibility depends upon the family’s needs, participation in other government programs, assets and the federal poverty guidelines.

Medical Insurance

California offers low-income individuals with free medical coverage if they are disabled, age 65 or older, pregnant women, foster care children and families with children. Medi-Cal covers some costs of full-time hospice and nursing care for critically ill Californians. California also provides the state’s medical insurance coverage to groups of eligible immigrants and refugees who do not qualify for standard Medicaid federal coverage.

Tax Assistance

The California State Controller’s Office participates with the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offering trained tax volunteers throughout the state. Low-income Californians may seek tax assistance through the statewide tax clinics to help prepare their state and federal tax returns. California limits eligibility to taxpayers who earn less than $52,000 annually. Additionally, California’s Franchise Tax Board provides online tax services to lower-income residents.

Energy Help

Californians are eligible for low-income energy assistance to pay for necessary heating and cooling costs and weatherization help. California participates in the government Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to provide financial help to eligible families for their heating and cooling bills. The state government also offers energy services on an emergency basis by providing expedited financial assistance to low-income Californians who are facing weather-related emergencies. Local utility companies also offer private assistance to low-income Californians with reduced rate programs and debt forgiveness programs. Generally, eligibility is limited to households within 125 to 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. A family of four in 2010 could not earn more than $4,774.25 monthly to qualify.

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