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Research Questions

  1. How did state policymakers communicate the changes from SB 1041 to the counties?
  2. How did the counties implement SB 1041 and what is the current status of implementation?
  3. Did counties coordinate with other public and private service providers to implement SB 1041?
  4. How well did county welfare office staff and CalWORKs participants understand the SB 1041 policy changes?
  5. What factors facilitated or hindered initial implementation of SB 1041 at the county level?
  6. How do participant indicators (e.g., time on aid, exemptions, sanctions, employment, and earnings) compare if participants entered CalWORKs before versus after SB 1041 became effective?

The California Budget Act of 2012, through trailer Senate Bill (SB) 1041, contained significant reforms to the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program. CalWORKs is California's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, a central component of the safety net that provides cash aid for low-income families with children. The SB 1041 reforms to CalWORKs aim to engage participants in more-intensive work activities as early as possible, while also providing more flexibility in work activity options and increased incentives for work as participants move toward self-sufficiency. The California legislature included a provision in the bill for an independent evaluation to determine if SB 1041 is achieving its objectives and if there are any unintended consequences.

Following the background and study design report, this first evaluation report provides initial findings from the process study based on the first wave of an online All-County Survey (ACS) and qualitative data from state-level interviews and interviews and focus groups conducted in six focal counties. Findings from the status and tracking studies are based on analysis of state administrative data. Initial insights on participant outcomes in terms of welfare use and employment are explored with state administrative data and nationally representative data from the Current Population Survey. Future reports will be based on further qualitative and quantitative data collection, including a second wave of the ACS, additional interviews and focus groups in the focal counties, both state- and county-level administrative data, and the first wave of the California Socioeconomic Survey.

Key Findings

Experience with Implementation

  • The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) state-level workgroup planning process was seen as positive and inclusive, but the intensive and lengthy process contributed to the slow release of guidance to counties, creating implementation challenges.
  • As of July 2015, most counties had completed the reengagement of participants with the short-term young child exemption. Eighty-six percent of counties reported having implemented the Family Stabilization program countywide, and 69 percent reported they had implemented the Expanded Subsidized Employment program countywide.
  • Three-quarters of all county social services departments reported reaching out to individual directors or agency representatives in other county agencies to plan for or implement support services under SB 1041. Up to 60 percent of all the counties reported developing new or enhanced partnerships with providers of education, vocational education/job training, domestic violence services, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services.
  • County administrators and caseworkers found the complexity of SB 1041 hindered its implementation, as did the time involved in administering the new welfare-to-work (WTW) 24-month time clock.
  • Almost all counties (93 percent) reported that explaining SB 1041 to participants was a barrier to successful implementation.

Participant Indicators

  • Descriptive analyses of participant indicators show an increase in exemptions, no change in the sanction rate, and some increase in employment and earnings but do not confirm that these trends result from the SB 1041 changes.
  • An empirical approach to estimate the causal effect of SB 1041 on participant outcomes suggests small changes up to two years after implementation. But, since SB 1041 reforms have not yet been fully implemented across all counties, strong effects on family and adult outcomes are not expected until more time has elapsed.


  • As the initial product of a multiyear evaluation, this report with evaluation findings was not intended to lead to specific recommendations.
  • But the findings do suggest there is scope for improving the implementation of time-clock rules across the counties and for ensuring caseworkers understand the rules.
  • There is also a need for clearer guidance for CalWORKs participants on how to use the flexibility they have under SB 1041.
  • Counties may further benefit from testing process improvements or other best practices and then disseminating effective approaches to other counties.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the California Department of Social Services and conducted jointly in RAND Education and RAND Labor and Population.

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