Evaluation of SB 1041 Reforms to California’s CalWORKs Program

The California Budget Act of 2012—“Senate Bill (SB) 1041”—included significant reforms to California’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program known as CalWORKs (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids).

Explore the updated findings and recommendations from the Year 3 evaluation.

The reforms, effective as of January 2013, included changes to the recipient time clock, work requirements, and earned income disregard, among other changes, with the goal of engaging recipients in more intensive work activities as early as possible, while also providing more flexibility in work activity options and increased financial incentives as recipients move toward self sufficiency.

To fully understand if SB 1041 is achieving its objectives and if there are any unintended consequences, the California legislature required an independent evaluation, to be performed by AIR and the RAND Corporation, along with support from Stanfield Systems.

The evaluation seeks to address key questions regarding the implementation and impact of SB 1041:

  • Has SB 1041 provided greater flexibility in the services and activities available to recipients?
  • Has SB 1041 helped to remove barriers to recipients’ employment?
  • Has SB 1041 accelerated recipients’ paths to self-sufficiency?
  • Has SB 1041 improved the well-being of recipient children and their families?
  • Has SB 1041 affected recipients’ transitions at the 25-month mark?
  • How have the changes affected CalWORKs and related programs at the county level?
  • Has SB 1041 affected California’s TANF annual Work Participation Rates?

The study team will make recommendations for improvements to the CalWORKs program based on the evaluation findings.

Key Findings and Recommendations from the Year 3 Evaluation

Experience with ongoing implementation

  • State- and county-level stakeholders agreed that the core components of SB 1041 had been implemented as of mid-2016, although issues remained with the execution of some components, particularly the welfare-to-work (WTW) 24-month time clock.
  • Counties continued to expand or enhance partnerships with local service providers, especially in areas where gaps previously existed.
  • Understanding of the more-complex components of SB 1041 (e.g., WTW 24-month time clock) appears to have improved over time, but shortfalls remained.
  • The OCAT was viewed as a useful tool for identifying barriers, but there were concerns with the time to administer the tool, the sensitive nature of the information collected, and administration in settings without privacy.
  • The FS and ECE programs were viewed as key supporting components for SB 1041, although use of the ECE program was below expectations as of mid-2016.

Participant indicators

  • For two initial post–SB 1041 cohorts entering CalWORKs in 2013 and 2014, usage of the flexible WTW 24-month time clock appears to be low two and three years after entry.
  • Descriptive analyses of other participant indicators show little change in ever having an exemption or in ever having a sanction, and some increase in employment and earnings but do not confirm that these trends result from SB 1041.
  • 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 had not yet been fully implemented across all counties, strong effects on outcomes are not expected until more time has elapsed.


  • As the interim product of a multiyear evaluation, this report with evaluation findings was not intended to lead to specific recommendations.
  • The challenges with understanding the WTW 24-month time clock suggest the need for case workers to provide more effective guidance and resource materials to WTW clients.
  • Other aspects of implementation that merit ongoing monitoring include the administration of the OCAT tool, participation patterns and service mix for the FS program, and take-up for the ESE program.
  • Counties that experiment with process improvements may provide useful models or best practices for other counties to implement.
Principal Researcher