As students and parents alike grapple with the unprecedented demands of online education, the California State Legislature has passed a bill that would increase public aid for student parents, allowing college students with dependent children to more easily benefit from the state’s California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids, or CalWORKs, program.
Under existing law, adults who are eligible for CalWORKs funding must complete a Welfare-to-Work plan, which includes working up to 30 hours a week as a requirement for receiving cash aid. This presents a barrier for low-income parents seeking to enroll in school full- or part-time, as failure to meet the mandated work hours could result in docked benefits. Ion addition, participants are only allowed 24 months of “non-core” Welfare-to-Work activities, such as education, during their lifetime, meaning that students may not be able to complete their degree within the time frame allotted by the program.
The bill, if signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom by the end of the month, would grant full-time students enrolled in CalWORKs $500 per semester or $350 per quarter, and half that sum to part-time students, to offset the cost of textbooks or tuition.
Student parents would also be exempt from the Welfare-to-Work plan, two-week job skills course and work assessments, and they would be granted an extension on the 24-month clock as long as they continue to make “satisfactory progress” at their educational institution.
“It is essential that we ensure student parents have an opportunity to complete their college education before their eligibility on CalWORKs ends,” California State Senator Steve Glazer, who introduced the bill to the Legislature, said in an email. “My bill would relieve pressure on student-parents, especially during these difficult times, and allow more CalWorks applicants and recipients to achieve their higher education and professional goals.”
Distance learning has spawned a host of unique challenges for student parents, according to Anita Adams, the lead student assistant at the campus Student Parent Center. Adams said parents must attend classes while taking on the time-consuming role of primary educator to their own children, or in the case of very young children, keeping them constantly entertained at home.
The main obstacle is the lack of childcare, Adams added, with slots at the on campus daycare being limited due to contagion concerns.
Although Adams praised the CalWORKs program, she noted that only a small subset of student parents at UC Berkeley are eligible, due to the low-income threshold.
The students who do qualify for CalWORKs must “jump through a ton of hoops,” said Adams, including mandatory job search camps during school breaks and significant paperwork each month. She added that she hopes the new bill will be a step toward reducing those barriers.
“Their (CalWORKs’) focus is on short-term employment,” Adams said. “Any job is better than nothing. Versus at UC Berkeley, we really believe that education is the long-term path out of poverty.”