What should I know about federal, state, and county benefits?

The federal (national) government is in charge of certain public benefits programs that operate across the country; and the state and county governments are in charge of others that are specific to their own residents:

    For some benefits programs, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the federal government sets all the rules about who can receive benefits and how they get issued, requiring agencies in every state and county to follow those rules when distributing those benefits. For example: If you are a person with a disability and no income, and you want to apply for SSI benefits, you have to follow the same rules and meet the same requirements no matter what state or county you live in.
    For other benefits programs, such as cash assistance, the federal government sets only very general rules, allowing state and county governments to set up their own systems for distributing those benefits to their residents. For example, if you’re a California resident struggling to cover your living costs and want to apply for cash aid through the General Assistance or General Relief (GA/GR) programs, the rules are set by California and your specific county.[1453]
    For other benefits programs, such as healthcare, the federal government sets up a general system for low-income people (Medicaid) and requires agencies in every state and county to follow those national rules—but also allows states and counties to set more specific rules for their residents and run their own benefits programs for residents who don’t qualify under the federal rules.[1454]

It is important to know what government agency runs your public benefits—who sets the program rules, as well as which agency you apply and report to.

This chart describes the most common types of public benefits programs, and what they can provide to people who qualify. Whether you qualify depends on many individual factors.




Basic Needs Cash Benefits

Basic Needs Cash Benefits programs called General Assistance/General Relief (GA/GR) and CalWORKS provide temporary and/or long-term financial (cash) aid to low income people and families

Food Benefits

California provides food benefits through a program called CalFresh (food stamps). CalFresh provides money to low-income people and families to purchase food. Pregnant women, infants and children may potentially be eligible for WIC, a program that provides food for pregnant women or mothers of young children. There are also hundreds of free food banks throughout California.

Health Care Benefits

California provides free health insurance and coverage to low income people and families through a program called Medi-Cal. People who do not qualify for Medi-Cal may sign up for health care through the State’s healthcare marketplace, Covered California.

Work Services Benefits

People enrolled in CalWORKS are eligible for Welfare-To-Work, a program that helps people to train for and find employment.

Social Security Benefits

Social Security Benefits are for retired people, disabled people, and their families. Through Retirement Benefits, Disability Benefits (SSDI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI/SSP), qualifying people may receive monthly cash assistance.

Veterans Benefits

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides benefits to former U.S. military service members, such as health care, transitional assistance, and employment-related services.

  1. 1453

    See Cal. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., http://www.cdss.ca.gov/cdssweb/PG132.htm.

  2. 1454

    See Cal. Medicaid-Marketplace Overview, Medicaid.gov, http://www.medicaid.gov/Medicaid-CHIP-Program-Information/By-State/california.html.