SACRAMENTO – Earlier this year, Assemblymember Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) partnered with Alameda County and Western Center on Law and Poverty to introduce a bill to streamline and align the CalFresh and CalWORKs programs in order to assist sponsored noncitizen individuals and families from the risk of hunger and homelessness.
“Most legal immigrants in the United States are eligible for CalWORKs and CalFresh, provided they meet financial and categorical eligibility requirements,” explained Assemblymember Quirk. “However, there are different renewable restrictions for reasons that make no logical sense.”
California provides various public social services programs to low-income individuals. These include the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program, which provides cash assistance and other benefits and the CalFresh program, under which supplemental nutrition assistance benefits are allocated to the state by the federal government and distributed locally to eligible individuals.
Generally, when a sponsored noncitizen applies for public benefits, the welfare agency certifying their benefit eligibility treats both the income and resources of their sponsor as available to them – a process known as “sponsor deeming.” In cases where a sponsor is unable to support them, the welfare agency may issue an indigence exemption.
In California, if a determination is made by the county that a sponsored noncitizen would go hungry and homeless without aid, the sponsored noncitizen is determined to be indigent.
Currently, indigence determinations are valid for 12 months. In CalFresh, these determinations are renewable annually without restriction. However, in CalWORKs, there is no provision for renewal and an indigence exception may only be granted once in a noncitizen’s lifetime.
AB 944 proposed to align CalWORKs sponsor deeming provisions with those used for CalFresh. Specifically, this bill would have allowed counties to authorize the annual renewal of indigence determinations for sponsored noncitizens receiving public benefits. This will provide essential ongoing support for indigent immigrant populations at a time of federal uncertainty.
“We appreciate Assemblymember Quirk’s leadership on this issue and are disappointed in Governor Newsom’s veto; Alameda County stands for the protection of all its residents regardless of citizenship status. It is very important to our community that all individuals have the basic necessities of food and shelter.” said Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Keith Carson, Chair of the Committee on Personnel, Administration and Legislation Policy for the Board.
“We are disappointed in the Governor’s veto of AB 944, a bill that would clarify the rules for aid for immigrant families with children,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It has always been our opinion that the current regulation is wrong and we will not stop working towards an eventual clean-up of that regulation, but that won’t help the families who are currently without their basic needs met because this bill wasn’t signed into law.”
“I am proud to have worked with Alameda County and the Western Center on Law and Poverty on AB 944. Indigence determinations under CalFresh are renewed annually without restriction. However, CalWORKs, has no provision for renewal. In fact, an indigence exception may only be granted once in a noncitizen’s lifetime. In light of what is happening on a national level, this veto is disappointing. I will continue to champion for our immigrant families,” said Assemblymember Quirk upon learning that his bill was vetoed.
Elected in 2012, Bill Quirk brings his PhD in astrophysics and career as an educator and scientist to the State Assembly. He is the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. He is also Chair of the Select Committee on California’s Clean Energy Economy. He is a member of the Appropriations, Public Safety, Revenue and Taxation, and Utilities and Energy Committees.