When Owning a Car is a Barrier to Families in Need

By Regine Neptune

June 5, 2013

A car, as most of you know can make a difference between a job interview, getting a job, retaining a job, keeping your doctor’s appointment, getting your kids to daycare or school on time, and getting food on the table. With a vehicle a parent can get more than one child to school safely rather than depend on public transportation that would take a significant chunk of income per month from their basic needs. It might even mean reducing a child’s risk of being absent or truant from school. I know first hand that having a vehicle often made the difference when my daughter called me saying, “Mom I just missed the bus and I have to get to school. Can you pick me up?”

So help me understand why the state  denies that benefit to those struggling to make ends meet and having them make a choice between having a car and getting CalWORKs benefits.

Current law denies aid to basic needs assistance and welfare-to-work retraining and support to poor parents if they have a car valued over $4,650.  This policy dates back to federal law enacted in 1977.

The CalWORK’s auto resource limit has been a bone of contention for CalWORKs participants in California. In fact, while most states allow for some consideration in having a vehicle exempted California is still arguing against its benefits. California’s auto resource rules are more  restrictive than 44 other states despite the cost benefit analysis to the state.

Since 2001,  several bills have been authored to repeal or amend this policy: AB 144 (Cedillo), AB 2352 (Hernández), 2012; AB 1182 (Hernández), 2011; AB 1058 (Beall), 2009; and AB 2368 (Fuentes), 2008. Most recently, Assembly member Stone introduced AB 197 that would once again eliminate the vehicle asset test for the CalWORKs program. The bill would have excluded a motor vehicle consideration when determining or re-determining eligibility for CalWORKs and  removed the requirement that county workers assess the value of a motor vehicle when determining and re-determining eligibility for applicants and recipients of CalWORKs. The May 24th Assembly Appropriation’s suspense hearing was cancelled  turning it into a two-year bill.  But later that day, the removal of the auto-resource barrier was given new breath when it was included in a package of proposals passed by the Assembly Budget Subcommittee One, chaired by Assemblywoman Mitchell.

It’s time California lift   remove the auto-resource barrier that removes the ability for  low-income families to return to employment and self-sufficiency.

For more on this policy, see:




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