The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

CalWORKs helps student parents succeed despite COVID-19
Infographic by James Fife ([email protected])

As the fall 2020 semester at City College ends, leaves that were once vibrant green fade to yellow, red and orange, ultimately falling, leaving trees barren on the empty campus.

All Los Rios college campuses have been closed for nine months as the spread of COVID-19 has continued. Most students have missed the seasonal changes on campus, but that was the least thing worrying student parents. For them, making ends meet during the past nine months of the pandemic has been an urgent priority. 

According to Dean of Intervention Andre Coleman, who oversees a number of areas, including the CalWORKS Program, the COVID-19 pandemic has created more basic needs in the student population. He said this is especially important to students with children. Coleman explained that the CalWORKS Program provides support for student parents who want to better their economic opportunities for themselves and their children. 

”These are often not always single moms trying to make it,” said Coleman, who has studied the data about students with children. “It is imperative that we give these students and these programs the very best opportunity to become successful. Education is really a way of [achieving] economic justice.”

Although there is an on-site CalWORKS office in the Learning Resource Center, students had to first apply online and be determined eligible for the government-funded cash aid and support services. They were then referred to CalWORKs program assistants, now working remotely.

Coleman said CalWORKS students are a mixture of women, Blacks, Latinos and immigrants. The county provides ancillary payments for books, supplies and support so CalWorks students do not necessarily have to apply for financial aid. They all, however, must meet certain program standards.

“The first [of the two components of CalWORKs] is the county portion, which used to be called the Welfare-to-Work Program,” said Coleman. “Someone can be a part of CalWORKS at the county level and not be a part of CalWORKS as a student.” 

 CalWORKS students are also expected to fulfill activity hours.

“One of the ways to fulfill the activities hours is to go to school,” Coleman said. “If a student is on the county CalWORKS, then the student is eligible to be on the Sac City CalWORKS Program. It gets a little confusing because they use the same name in different ways.”

Coleman explained that the City College office could be considered autonomous from the main County of Sacramento CalWORKS Program, referring to it as a partnership. He explained that the county level WTW focuses on self-sufficiency while the City College CalWORKS program emphasizes an education-to-career path, helping students overcome poverty through higher education.

“I would say the CalWORKS program is about creating a sense of community where families have the opportunity to be empowered and uplifted through education,” said Coleman. “And we know that one of the best ways to truly transform people’s lives and break them out of the cycle of poverty is through education. There’s a lot of research that shows [that] even some levels of education increases the earning potential for individuals.”

According to Coleman, the county program encourages students to become employable in the shortest amount of time possible by obtaining an associate or certificate; however, the college CalWORKS program emphasizes transferring to obtain a bachelor’s  degree to decrease the likelihood of getting back on welfare and to move forward achieving self-sufficiency.

“The goal of the college is for students to obtain their certificate or Associate Degree for Transfer, Associate Degree or [complete the] Inter General Education Transfer Curriculum,” said Coleman.

Another concern for student parents is having enough money for groceries of sufficient nutritional value and preventing food insecurities in their household. Coleman said that CalFresh (federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a pivotal resource for students, adding that many students are already eligible. He said CalWORKs students receive CalFresh benefits upon enrollment in CalWORKS.

“Our students also by nature are receiving CalFresh [a state aid food program also funded by the federal government and county] because they are on the CalWORKS program. We are constantly pushing for students who are Pell Grant recipients to apply for CalFresh because we know if you are hungry, you cannot focus on class,” explained Coleman. “If we can meet your food needs, you can spend less time working and more time studying and pursuing educational goals.”

Coleman said CalWORKs gets funding from the state community college chancellor’s office for student support services. The City College CalWORKS office distributes gift cards for groceries, books from libraries and access to various counseling resources. 

Coleman said that overseeing the CalWORKS Program has been a challenge for him in addition to his role as dean of intervention.

“It’s a great opportunity for someone like me, who is new to the program, to come in and ask questions that, I think, are sometimes taken for granted,” Coleman said. “I get to ask questions like, ‘So why do we do that?’ And someone would say, ‘I don’t know—we just do. It’s just the way it is.’ Then all of a sudden it opens the door to some wonderful conversations about some great opportunities we didn’t have before.”

Although it is a challenge, Coleman said he is thankful for student personnel assistant workers Mihn Tran and Velisa Robertson. He said the two of them have a combined 20-plus years of experience in CalWORKS.

“These women know the program inside and out and are very competent and capable. They have the program running like a fine-tuned machine,” said Coleman. “It obviously makes my life a heck of a lot easier. We can now work to see how we can make the program better. They love what they do and they love supporting the students.” 

In the end, Coleman said, he loves that his work focuses on helping this population of students. 

“Helping students be successful and removing the barriers and obtaining their educational goals—I don’t know if there’s anything better than that. It’s h-e-a-r-t work, not hard work,” Coleman said.

“The opportunity for helping someone from being on CalWORKS to being gainfully employed is not just a life single experience—it is generational,” he said. “If you go from lower economic status and you can get work with a bachelor’s degree, then your kids [might] get a master’s and puts them in a cycle of every generation getting better. You can see the impact of day-to-day transformations. It is so amazing to truly help change lives.”

To apply for assistance and for more information, visit the County of Sacramento CalWORKS website at 

For more information on City College CalWORKS, email [email protected]

To make an appointment to speak with a Public Student Assistant, call (916) 558-2307 or (916) 558-2677.

Additional CalWORKs links:

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