How Long Do You Have to Live in California to Get Welfare?

The state of California has a number of welfare programs, such as CalFresh. CalWORKS and Medi-Cal, that provide services for limited income residents. The counties administer the programs. It is possible to be eligible to qualify for one of the welfare programs within a day after arriving in California.


Federal and state taxes support California’s Medicaid health care program, Medi-Cal. The program pays for medical services for qualifying applicants with limited resources or income. Only California residents are eligible for Medi-Cal. The California Department of Care Services defines a resident for this purpose as “someone who lives here and plans to stay here, or someone who is working or looking for work in California.”


The CalFresh Program is California’s food stamp program. A member of the program receives a plastic card, similar in appearance to a credit card. Each month the program electronically transfers funds to the cardholder’s account, allowing the member to purchase food items at a store by using the card. Legal immigrants can apply for this program after living in the country for five years, or earlier if they have children under the age of 18 or are receiving disability benefits or assistance. Allowable purchases include food for human consumption and seeds or plants for growing food. Disallowable purchases include alcohol, pet food, tobacco products, sundries and prepared packaged food eaten or heated in the store.


CalWORKS, administered through the county’s welfare department, gives cash and services to eligible families with limited funds. Families on the program receive funds for food, housing and other necessities. Qualifying applicants include residents of California, pregnant women, adults responsible for children under the age of 19, legal aliens, U.S. nationals, permanent residents or citizens who are working for low wages or are unemployed. Under CalWORKS, a family can ask for immediate assistance if it has little cash and needs emergency housing, medical, utilities or clothing. CalWORKS also has a welfare-to-work program. The program prepares the participant for the workforce, including job search services, vocational training placement and education.

General Relief

Aside from the CalFresh. CalWORKS and Medi-Cal programs, each county may have its own general relief program to supply welfare relief. The length of time someone needs to live in the respective county before being eligible to apply varies by county.