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Celebrating BenefitsCal – California’s New Statewide Public Benefits Application System 

November 3, 2023

This month, we celebrate the successful migration of all California’s 58 counties to the new CalSAWS (California Statewide Automated Welfare System) eligibility system and the public-facing BenefitsCal website. 

For more than a decade, California households have applied for public benefits online through one of four public-facing benefits websites: C4Yourself, MyBenefitsCalWIN, YourBenefitsNow, or GetCalFresh. In partnership with State departments, the County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the federal government, and the CalSAWS Advocates Group led by CAFB, the CalSAWS Project spent more than four years developing a single statewide system for public benefits eligibility determinations, benefits calculations, and case management. GetCalFresh.org is still available to all Californians to apply for CalFresh food benefits until the platform sunsets in 2025. 

In 2018, as part of the development process, we started facilitating and working with more than 70 nonprofit organizations to establish the “CalSAWS Advocates Group”. The mission has been to support the development of public benefits technology in a way that  maximizes ease of use for program applicants and beneficiaries, community-based organizations (CBOs), and eligibility workers while, at the same time, protecting user rights and promoting ongoing program improvement.

Through the development of new technologies, CBOs, advocates, and application assisters have supported clients and provided feedback to key decision-makers about how to protect and support customer access throughout the migration process. Additionally, new processes for public engagement have been established to consistently engage external partners and include public feedback in decisions for public-facing technologies. 

Among numerous successes, the Advocates group has successfully

  • advocated for the CalSAWS project to research and address document upload barriers for clients and CBOs
  • advocated for a tech help desk to support users facing technical barriers with BenefitsCal
  • provided feedback to BenefitsCal to improve the college student flow in the online application
  • developed a toolkit for CBOs and county advocates to support their local advocacy about the CalSAWS migration, and more

We are thankful for the continuous collaborative engagement, tenacity, and collective support demonstrated in this Advocates group.

Counties began their transition to the new system in September 2021, and as of Oct 30, 2023, all welfare department staff from all 58 counties are now using a platform called CalSAWS, an automated, integrated eligibility and case management system that supports access to public assistance programs. The system has a public-facing website called BenefitsCal, with integrated features to support customers and CBOs. 

Using BenefitsCal, households in every county can apply for public benefits, including food (CalFresh), cash aid (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids, Trafficking and Crime Victim Assistance Program, Refugee Cash Assistance, General Assistance or General Relief), and health coverage (Medi-Cal) on this platform. Additionally, with a BenefitsCal account, benefits recipients can view their benefits details, track statuses and reminders, read electronic notices, and submit documents, reports, and renewals online.

“The CalSAWS system, including BenefitsCal, is an important evolution in streamlining services for households. We are excited to continue our participation with automation stakeholders to further develop our partnerships in support of consumer needs and the overall success of the CalSAWS system.” – Jennifer Tracy, advocacy co-lead for the California Association of Food Banks

We are grateful for all the work the counties, CalSAWS Project, CWDA, CDSS, the Department of Health Care Services, Office of Scientific and Technical Information, California legislators, customers, vendor staff, and advocates have put in to develop this technology. We are also grateful for the support to counties, CBO assisters, and customers throughout the migration process.

If you want to get involved in advocacy to support the implementation of BenefitsCal and CalSAWS, visit our SAWS Migration page

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