Calworks Food Stamp Programs

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The CalWorks food stamp program, also called CalFresh, is completely funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- though California pays for half of the administrative costs -- and was put in place to help families pay for food if their incomes made that difficult. To apply, you must be a resident of California and a United States citizen or a qualifying immigrant. If your immigration status prevents you from qualifying for CalFresh, then you may apply for the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which was specifically designed for immigrants who don't qualify for food stamps.


Eligibility for CalWorks food stamps is based on income, the amount of resources you have and how many people live in your household. Income guidelines are based on household size, beginning at a gross, or total before expenses, maximum of $1,174 for a single-person household and rising about $400 for each person added, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After expenses are deducted, net income maximums are set at $903 for a single-person family and rise about $300 for each extra person. You can have up to $2,000 in countable resources, such as money on hand or in the bank, stocks, bonds and investments. Your resource amount climbs to $3,000 if an elderly (60 or older) or handicapped person resides with you.

How to Apply

Visit your local California Welfare Department to apply for CalWorks or CalFresh food stamps. There are over 240 county Welfare Departments to help you. Fill out an application for benefits and provide the names and Social Security numbers of everyone in your household, as well as proof of income, living expenses and medical expenses for anyone in your home who is 60 or older, or who receives disability income. You may need to provide other types of proof depending on your circumstances, according to the Social Security Administration, such as child support payments or income. Your application will be followed by a face-to-face interview with a caseworker who will evaluate your eligibility. Determination takes about 30 days, unless you qualify for emergency benefits, in which case it will take seven days or fewer.

EBT Card

If you're approved for food stamps, you'll receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card and have to select a personal identification number (PIN) at the California Welfare Department. The EBT card is a plastic debit card provided by the state of California for you to use at the register at a grocery store just like you would your bank card. The amount of food stamp benefits you've been approved for are loaded onto the card every month for as long as your benefit period lasts. Whatever you have left in your account at the end of the month rolls over to the next month.

What to Buy

You can use your California EBT card to buy things such as fresh meat, fresh produce, frozen and canned foods, boxed cereals, pasta, milk, cheese and bottled water, according to the California Department of Social Services. You can also buy seeds and vegetable plants meant for home use. You cannot buy medicine, vitamins, alcohol, household cleaners or cigarettes with food stamps. Hot food items are exempt as well, unless made by a restaurant in California approved for providing meals to those on food stamps.