Chapter 2 - Economic Independence

California and federal laws generally provide for equal treatment of men and women in the economic sphere. Chapter One dealt exclusively with employment issues; this chapter discusses women's rights with respect to a wider range of economic issues. Specific topics dealt with in this chapter include credit, housing loans, business establishments, contracts, insurance and public assistance programs.


Any business, such as a bank or gasoline company, that extends credit for goods or services is a "creditor." A combination of California and federal laws makes it unlawful for a creditor to refuse to extend credit to a person because of his or her sex, marital status, race, color, national origin, religion, age or receipt of public assistance (with limited exceptions), or the exercise of certain legal rights.

According to the law, a woman, married or single, is entitled to have credit accounts kept in her own name so that she has a separate credit history, and can establish a good credit rating in her own name. When credit is denied to any person, that person has a right to a written statement of the reasons for the denial from the creditor. That person also has a right to a copy of his/her own credit history report from the "credit reporting bureau" that was relied upon by the creditor when refusing to extend credit. (Civ. Code, §§ 1747.80, 1785.10 et seq. and 1812.30 et seq.; 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.; 12 C.F.R. § 202.5 et seq.)

A person or class of persons may file legal action against creditors who discriminate illegally. If discrimination by a creditor is proved in court, the court may award actual damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees against the creditor. (Civ. Code, §§ 1812.31 and 1812.34; 15 U.S.C. § 1691e.)

Discrimination in Granting Credit is Generally Illegal

However, creditors are allowed to determine your creditworthiness on the basis of your income, expenses, debts and reliability. (Civ. Code, § 1812.30; 15 U.S.C. § 1681b.)

If you are an unmarried woman, you must be treated as an unmarried man would be treated when you apply for credit. If you have earnings and assets that meet the creditor's requirements, you must be given the same credit at that business establishment as a man in your position would be given. Federal guidelines allow a creditor to inquire about marital status if you live in a community property state like California. (Civ. Code, § 1812.30; 12 C.F.R. § 202.5.)

If you are a married woman, you must be treated as a man (married or single) would be treated when you apply for credit. You may have more earnings and other assets under your management and control than a single working woman because of your husband's job and your community property. However, a credit agency must grant you credit in your own name, just as it would grant to a man in your position. (Civ. Code, § 1812.30 et seq.; 12 C.F.R. §§ 202.5 and 202.6.)

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Billing Errors

Retailers and card issuers must correct billing errors made by them within 60 days of the date on which an inquiry about a billing error was mailed. If they willfully refuse to do so, the cardholder may be able to collect three times his/her actual damages, along with reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. (Civ. Code, § 1747.60.)

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Credit History

To get credit, you must show the creditor that you are "creditworthy." Being creditworthy means that you have a separate credit history identifying you as a person who has managed your earnings and assets, and has borrowed and repaid your debts on time. One way to start a credit history is to open a checking or savings account in your own name. You may then apply to your bank for a bank credit card in your own name. If you charge purchases on your bank card and repay your bills on time, you will have a basis to prove your creditworthiness. As your credit history continues, you may be able to increase your credit limits and to open additional credit accounts.

You may create a credit history for yourself by establishing accounts in your name. Your own legal name is your personal first name, and the last name (maiden name or married name) that you prefer to use. However, if you are married and you keep your bank account and credit cards in the name of "Mrs. Bill Jones," you have not created your own credit identity, but a duplicate of your husband's identity, since "Mrs. Bill Jones" is merely a social title.

Joint accounts usually help establish your own credit history. All information regarding joint accounts opened after January 1977 is required by law to be filed separately under the names of each account holder. For any joint charge account of a married couple opened before 1977, you have the right to request that the creditor (store, business, etc.) file information about the joint account in each name separately. You should request that the creditor report the credit history on the joint account in both names to the credit reporting bureau. (Civ. Code, § 1812.30(e) and (f); 12 C.F.R. § 202.10.)

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Credit Reporting Bureau

Civil Code section 1785.14 prohibits a credit reporting agency from furnishing a report to any person unless the agency has reasonable grounds to believe that the report will be used for certain designated purposes. (See Civ. Code § 1785.11.)

You can verify your separate credit history by getting a copy of your credit history report from a credit reporting bureau. Sometimes called a "credit bureau" or "credit reporting agency," this is a clearinghouse that provides subscriber members (banks, stores, businesses) with information about the financial transactions of their customers. The information available from the credit reporting bureau comes from the same subscriber-members who report to the bureau delinquent debts, civil judgments, bankruptcies and collections against their own customers. The bureau records and permanently maintains certain information, usually on computer tapes. The bureau usually does not do any independent investigation of the information reported to it by subscriber-members. (Civ. Code, § 1785.1 et seq.) To find out if you have any credit history and to see a copy of your own credit history reports, ask your bank or other creditor the name and address of the credit reporting bureau that they use.

You have the right to get a copy of your own credit history from the credit reporting bureau at any time, for a fee not to exceed $8.00. If an adverse action has been taken against you, you can usually get a copy of your credit history report without charge, if you request it within 60 days after you receive notice that you have been denied credit or given a negative credit rating. You can also obtain the names of the recipients of the credit reports within a certain time period to determine who has reviewed your credit history for employment or other purposes. (Civ. Code, §§ 1785.10 and 1785.17.)

You can find out about your credit history report by pursuing one of these options:

  • Going to the credit reporting bureau in person and presenting identification. The agency must then give you a copy of your file. If the agency uses codes, you must be given an explanation of the codes used.
  • Writing a letter to the bureau requesting a decoded version of your file. You must present proper identification in your letter and give a specific address to which your file may be mailed. Proper identification means information generally deemed sufficient to identify a person.
  • Writing a letter requesting that the credit reporting bureau call you and give you the information in your file. Your letter must give your identification and your telephone number. (Civ. Code, §§ 1785.10 and 1785.15.)

If adverse action was taken against you based on consumer credit report information, and you request a copy of the information in your file within 60 days of notification of the adverse action, you will not be charged a fee. (Civ. Code, § 1785.17(2)(b).)

The following information generally must NOT be included in a consumer credit report.

  • Bankruptcies that were declared by the court 10 or more years before the date of the credit report.
  • Suits and judgments that were declared by the court seven or more years before the date of the credit report, or the expiration of the governing statute of limitations, whichever is the longer period.
  • Unlawful detainer actions unless the lessor was the prevailing party.
  • Tax liens that were paid seven or more years before the date of the credit report.
  • Accounts that were placed for collection or charged to profit and loss seven or more years before the date of the credit report.(1)
  • Records of arrest, indictment, information, misdemeanor complaint or the conviction of a crime in which the date of disposition, release or parole precede the credit report by seven or more years. A conviction no longer must be reported if a full pardon was granted for it, nor must an arrest, indictment, information or misdemeanor complaint be reported if a conviction did not result from it.
  • Any other information that will hurt your chances of getting credit, if the event occurred seven years or more before the date of the credit report. (Civ. Code, § 1785.13(a).)

You may have legal remedies if you were illegally denied credit or suffered damages as the result of inaccurate or unlawful information passed on by a credit reporting agency. If, after reviewing your credit file, you believe you were denied credit merely because of your sex or marital status, or the other grounds described in this chapter, and you have reason to believe that a man with the same assets and credit history as you would receive credit, you may wish to get legal assistance. There are several government agencies you can contact about certain types of credit discrimination. The names and addresses of these agencies follow.

You may also wish to contact a private attorney about the possibility of recovering actual damages, punitive damages up to $10,000 as an individual, and attorney's fees as provided under the various laws. (Civ. Code, §§ 1785.31 and 1812.31; 15 U.S.C. § 1691e.)

If the information in your own credit history report is out of date, incorrect or in dispute, you should write down all necessary corrections and return the corrected report to the bureau. The bureau is required to check the new information, and if correct, to change your credit history report. You can request that the corrected information or notice be sent to any creditor who received a negative report within the last six months, and to prospective employers who received a negative report during the prior two years. (Civ. Code, § 1785.16 (h).)

If the credit reporting bureau decides that it disagrees with you, it must notify you within five days of its decision that it believes your dispute is frivolous or irrelevant and state the reasons why. If this happens, you can file your own statement of not more than 100 words presenting your side of the story, and this statement must be included in your credit history report. (Civ. Code, § 1785.16(b) and (f).)  If the agency reinserts disputed information in your file, it must notify you of the reinsertion and of your right to a reinvestigation of the accuracy of the reinserted information. (Civ. Code, § 1785.16.)

Civil Code section 1785.16 was recently amended to require the credit agency to promptly and permanently block the reporting of any information if the consumer submits a valid police report showing that another person has fraudulently used his credit information.

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. section 1681 et seq., has recently been amended to protect consumer privacy and ensure the accuracy, relevancy and proper utilization of consumer reports. FCRA requires employers to give the consumer a clear and conspicuous written notice that states that the employer may obtain a consumer report. The consumer must authorize the obtaining of the report. The employer must certify to the consumer reporting agency that it will not make improper use of the information. Before taking adverse action based upon a consumer report, the employer must provide the consumer with a pre-adverse action disclosure and an adverse action notice.

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Credit Applications

When you apply for credit, such as a bank-issued credit card, you will probably be asked to fill out a written credit application. It is illegal for a creditor to make any discriminatory statement discouraging you from applying for credit. (12 C.F.R. § 202.5(a).)

It is illegal for a creditor to issue you a credit card unless you have specifically requested one, or unless it is a renewal of or a substitution for an accepted credit card. (Civ. Code, § 1747.05.)

There are a number of questions that credit applications usually ask. When filling out an application for credit, you will probably be asked about your employment, monthly earnings, savings and checking accounts, other credit accounts, dependents, whether you own or rent your house or apartment and how long you have resided there, and your telephone numbers at home and work. Such questions are lawful. Generally, creditors are looking for information to establish whether you have enough income and assets to be able to repay the loan, and whether you appear to have the "stability" in terms of job, home and residence in the community to indicate that you are a good credit risk. (12 C.F.R. §§ 202.5 and 202.6.)

Creditors can ask you limited questions about your marital status. They can ask whether you are "married," "unmarried" or "separated." (They cannot ask whether you are divorced or widowed.) This information can be used only to evaluate your creditworthiness, not to discriminate. The application can ask you to designate a title, such as Ms., Miss, Mr. or Mrs., but you are not required to give this information. A creditor is legally permitted to ask you about your immigration status when you apply for credit. (12 C.F.R. §§ 202.5 and 202.6.)

There are a limited number of questions a creditor can ask you about your children. A creditor can ask you how many children you have now and who are your dependents. But this information can be used only to determine your financial situation, and not for discriminatory reasons. For example, a creditor cannot discriminate against you because you are a single parent. (12 C.F.R. § 202.5.)

There are a number of questions that are illegal for you to be asked when filling out a credit application. These include questions about your birth control practices, how many children you plan to have or adopt, whether you are able to have children, your race, color, religion, national origin and sex. A creditor cannot take your age into account, (as long as you have the capacity to enter into a binding contract), except that age can be used as a predictive variable in a credit scoring system, as long as it is not given a negative value; it can be used to favor elderly applicants; and it, along with evidence of receipt of public assistance, can be used only for determining a pertinent element of creditworthiness. (12 C.F.R. § 202.5 and 202.6.)

If you are married, you can apply for credit in your own name. All credit applications must tell you that you have a right to a separate account regardless of the fact that you are married. Usually, your signature alone will be required on the credit application if you apply for separate credit. (Civ. Code, § 1812.30(j); 12 C.F.R. § 202.7(d).)

If you are married, you may use your maiden name when applying for credit. You have a right to use either your husband's name or your maiden (birth) name on your credit card. You cannot be discriminated against because you choose to use your maiden name. (Civ. Code, § 1747.81; 12 C.F.R. § 202.7(b).)

If you are married, you can be asked some questions about your spouse when applying for joint credit. Because California is a community property state, you can be asked to give information about your spouse when applying for joint credit, or when alimony or support payments from your spouse or former spouse will be relied upon as a source for repayment of your debts. (See chapter on Domestic Relations for more information about community property.)

If asked, usually you must disclose debts against your community property when you apply for credit. A creditor can ask you to provide information about any debts that you and your spouse have against your community property. This means that you may be asked about debts incurred by your spouse even if you are seeking credit only in your name. This is because each spouse is responsible for the community debts of the marriage. A creditor may not use this information to discriminate against you just because you are a woman. This means that an application for credit cannot ask you questions that it does not ask a man in your situation. (12 C.F.R. § 202.5.)

Generally you cannot be forced to reapply for credit if you change your marital status or your name. However, you may be required to reapply for credit if you request unsecured credit and rely on property owned with another person. (The other person's signature may be required on the new application.) The only time a creditor may either cancel your credit card or reduce your limit after a change in your marital status is when you are either unable or unwilling to pay your debts. This means that your credit cards may not be canceled simply because you were divorced, widowed or because you changed your name. (12 C.F.R. § 202.7(c).)

You do not have to give any information about alimony, child support or separate maintenance payments unless you want the amounts from those sources to be included as part of your income. This means that if you do not want the creditor to know that you are divorced and are receiving alimony payments, you should not include these payments as part of your income on the credit application. On the other hand, if you have no other sources of income, you will want your alimony payments to be included in your income, and you may have to disclose the source of those payments. (12 C.F.R. §§ 202.5(d)(2) and 202.6(b)(5).)

It is unlawful for a creditor to discriminate against you because you are living with a man to whom you are not married. (12 C.F.R. § 202.5(d)(1).)

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If Your Credit Application is Denied

If you are denied credit, you have the right to be informed of the exact reasons for the denial. Once you have filed a written application for credit, you have a right to a written explanation from the creditor if you are turned down.

After you have applied for credit, you must be informed whether you have been given or denied credit within 30 days or later as specified in federal laws and regulations after the creditor received your completed application, took adverse action on an incomplete application, or took adverse action on an existing account.(2) The creditor must either:

  • give you a statement of specific reasons for denying you credit; or
  • give you the name, address and telephone number of the person who can tell you the reasons you were denied credit. The reasons for denial of the credit must be sent to you within 30 days after receipt of your request. Your request must be sent within 60 days of notification of the denial. (Civ. Code, § 1787.2; 15 U.S.C. § 1691(d)(2)(B); 12 C.F.R. § 202.9.)

A creditor who fails to supply a credit applicant with the reason for the denial of credit is liable for any actual damages sustained by the applicant as a result of the failure, and punitive damages of up to $10,000.00. (Civ. Code, § 1787.3.)

If you have been denied credit, you may want to look at your credit bureau report. Contact the credit reporting bureau in your city.

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Cancellation of Credit Card

Unless requested by the cardholder, no card issuer can cancel a credit card without having first given the cardholder 30 days' written notice of its intention to do so unless:

  • Within the last 90 days the cardholder has been in default of payment or otherwise in violation of the provision of his/her agreement with the card issuer; or
  • The card issuer has evidence or a reasonable belief that the cardholder is unwilling or unable to repay his/her obligations or that an unauthorized use of the card may be made. (Civ. Code, § 1747.85.)

The card issuer can place the cardholder's account on inactive status if the card has not been used for in excess of 18 months, and it can require updated information upon subsequent reuse of the card.

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Credit Card Theft

A cardholder may be liable for the unauthorized use of a credit card only if ALL of the following conditions are met:

  • The card is an accepted credit card.
  • The liability is not more than $50.
  • The card issuer gives adequate notice to the cardholder of the potential liability.
  • The card issuer has provided the cardholder with a description of the means by which the card issuer may be notified of loss or theft of the card.
  • The unauthorized use occurs before the card issuer has been notified that an unauthorized use of the credit card has occurred or may occur as a result of the loss, theft or otherwise.
  • The card issuer has provided a method whereby the user of the card can be identified as the person authorized to use it.

Always read the information concerning lost or stolen credit cards that is mailed to you when you receive your cards. (Civ. Code, § 1747.10.)

The names and addresses of the offices where complaints can be filed and questions asked are as follows:

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Retail stores, finance companies and nonbank credit card issuers:

Federal Trade Commission
901 Market Street, Suite 570
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 356-5270

Federal Trade Commission
11000 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 13209
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 235-4000

National banks:

U.S. Treasury Department
Comptroller of Currency
250 E. Street South West
Washington, D.C. 20219
(202) 874-5000

Air carriers:

Assistant General Counsel
Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings
Department of Transportation
C-70 Room 4116
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590-0001
(202) 366-4000

Small business investment companies:

U.S. Small Business Administration
1110 Vermont Avenue N.W., 9th Floor
P. O. Box 34500
Washington, D.C. 20043-4500
(202) 606-4000

Brokers and dealers:

Securities and Exchange Commission
450 Fifth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20549
(202) 942-8088

Federal land banks, federal land bank associations, federal intermediate credit banks and production credit associations:

Farm Credit Administration
1501 Farm Credit Drive
McLean, VA 22102-5090
(703) 883-4000

State member banks:

Federal Reserve Bank
101 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 974-2000

Federal Reserve Bank
950 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 683-2300

Nonmember insured banks:

Regional Director
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
25 Ecker Street, Suite 2300
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 546-0160

Savings institutions insured by the FSLC and members of the FHLB system (except for savings banks insured by the FDIC):

Supervisory Agent
Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco
600 C Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 616-1000

If you are aware of credit practices by a store or agency that you believe violate the laws described in this book, you may also send your written complaint to:

Office of the Attorney General
Public Inquiry Unit
P. O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550

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Under California law, women and men are entitled to equal treatment by business establishments. If you are illegally denied entrance or services by any business establishment, you can file a legal action against the business for damages and attorneys' fees. (Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civ. Code, §§ 51, et seq.)


A business establishment is a place generally open to the public. Examples of business establishments include restaurants, bars, stores, movie theaters, hotels, motels, shopping centers, housing accommodations, apartment buildings, real estate brokers, and doctors' offices. (61 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 320 (1978).)

Not all clubs meet the legal definition of "business establishments." Some clubs that are supported by private membership and are open only to members and their families may not be "business establishments" and may not be covered by this law.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a New York City ordinance that outlaws sex discrimination in membership by most large private clubs. (New York State Club Assn. v. New York City (1988) 487 U.S. 1.) However, even a "private club" can become a business establishment and be subject to laws against discrimination to the extent that it permits public and business functions to occur on its premises. The California Supreme Court recently held that the Unruh Civil Rights Act may be violated by private golf clubs which exclude women from proprietary membership. (Warfield v. Peninsula Golf & Country Club (1995) 10 Cal.4th 594.) The Court in a majority opinion distinguished the Boy Scouts from other entities found subject to the Act, ruling that it was not a business establishment whose membership decisions were subject to the Unruh Act. (Curran v. Mt. Diablo Council of Boy Scouts of America (1998) ____ Cal.4th _____, 98 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2802 and Randall v. Orange County Council of Boy Scouts of America, (1998) ____Cal.4th ____, 98 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2798.) Thus, it could refuse to admit as members homosexuals, atheists and agnostics. (This ruling will probably result in another case accepted for review, Yeaw v. Boy Scouts of America, Case No. S062749, review granted, August 20, 1997, being remanded for a decision consistent with it. That case involved whether it violated the Unruh Act for the Boy Scouts to refuse membership to girls.)

A number of California cities, including San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, have local ordinances that outlaw discriminatory membership practices for most large private clubs. None of the local ordinances is exactly the same, and not all private clubs are covered. You may want to contact your city attorney to find out whether your city has such a local ordinance, and whether it is being challenged in court.

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Your Rights in a Business Establishment

It is illegal for a business establishment in California to treat women less favorably than men entering and using the establishment. This means that you, as a woman, are allowed to enter any office, restaurant, bar, or other business establishment on the same basis as any other person is allowed to enter. You must be given the same privileges, accommodations, goods, and services as any other person coming into the place. For example, it is illegal for a restaurant to refuse to serve a woman seated alone if the restaurant will serve a man seated alone. It is illegal for a restaurant to refuse to serve you because of your sexual orientation. (Rolon v. Kulwitsky (1984) 153 Cal.App.3d 289.)(3)

Businesses cannot discriminate against you on the basis of your marital status, nor can they arbitrarily exclude children from their premises. (Marina Point, Ltd. v. Wolfson (1982) 30 Cal.3d. 721.)

Sex-based promotional discounts, such as ladies' day at the car wash or ladies' night at clubs, also constitute illegal sex-based discrimination. Business establishments must provide equal advantages and services to all customers, "no matter what their sex." (Koire v. Metro Car Wash (1985) 40 Cal.3d 24.) A recent amendment to the Civil Code prohibits businesses from charging more for a service because of gender, unless the amount of time, difficulty, or costs of providing the service is more because of the gender of the customer. (Civ. Code, § 51.6.)(4)

It is illegal for nearly any business that has a state license for some activity to refuse to provide that licensed activity to you because you are a woman. For example, it is illegal for most establishments with a state liquor license to refuse to provide that licensed activity to you because you are a woman. The business can lose its license for such a refusal. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 125.6; Easebe Enterprises, Inc. v. Alcoholic Bev. Etc. Appeals Bd. (1983) 141 Cal.App.3d 981.)

Rental housing is considered a business establishment. It is thus illegal for an apartment owner to refuse to rent an apartment to a woman merely because she is a woman. (See the Housing Chapter for additional information about your housing rights.)

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Legal Remedies

If you believe you have been denied equal rights by a business establishment because of your gender, there are a number of possible remedies you may seek.

You may want to hire a private attorney. A private attorney can file an action in court to recover up to three times your actual damages, but not less than $1,000 damages for each act of discrimination, and your attorney's fees. (Civ. Code, § 52(a).)

Also, you may wish to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). DFEH may pursue your complaint through an administrative hearing. (Gov. Code, §§ 12930(f)(2), 12930(h), 12948, 12960, 12965 and 12967.) The respondent (the business that discriminated against you) has the option of having the case heard in court if the DFEH asked for damages for emotional distress or for an administrative fine. (Gov. Code, §§ 12965(c)(1).)

If you have reason to believe that a business establishment has a continuing practice of denying equal rights because of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or disability you may notify the district attorney, city or county attorney, the California Attorney General, or the DFEH. These government agencies have the power to bring legal action to stop the business from future acts of discrimination.

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What Is A Contract?

A contract is an agreement between two or more people, usually to provide some goods or services or to perform some action that can be legally enforced. To have a contract, someone makes an offer, someone accepts that offer and there is "consideration." Consideration is any benefit that is given in exchange to the person who made a promise in the contract. A valid contract must also have a lawful "object," the thing which the person who receives the consideration promises to do or not to do. (Civ. Code, § 1549 et seq.)

The general rule is that an offer can be revoked or taken back until it is accepted. (Civ. Code, § 1586.) If you pay someone to keep an offer open for a period of time, an "option contract" is formed, and the offer may not be revoked for a certain period of time. (Civ. Code, § 884.010.) If someone makes an offer to you and promises not to take it back and you act because you relied on the offer, a contract is formed. Sometimes specific actions by parties can create "implied in fact contracts." (Civ. Code, § 1621.)

A contract may be written or oral. Generally, both written and oral contracts are binding and enforceable in a court of law. Contracts may be oral, unless specifically required to be in writing by law. (Civ. Code, § 1622.)

However, some types of contracts are not enforceable unless they are written. Examples of contracts that must be in writing are an agreement that cannot be performed within one year or during the lifetime of the promisor, a guarantee to pay someone else's obligations if he/she defaults, with certain exceptions, an agreement made upon consideration of marriage, an agreement for a lease that lasts for more than one year, and an agreement for the sale of real property. (Civ. Code, § 1624.)

It is illegal for a contract for goods or services to be discriminatory on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin, or because of location of business or lawful business associations. (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 16721-16721.5.) The laws that apply to making and enforcing contracts are technical and often require the services of a lawyer when disputes arise.

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Contracts With Specific Types Of Businesses

Health Studio Contracts

Health studio contracts must be in writing and you must be given a copy of the contract when you sign it. (Civ. Code, § 1812.82.)

Health studio contracts may not require financing for over three years, and services must begin within six months of signing of the contract. Services may extend three years from the date the contract is entered into. (Civ. Code, §§ 1812.84 and 1812.85(a).)

Health studio contracts must not be over $1,000, exclusive of interest and finance charges, and must terminate if the death or disability of the customer renders him/her unable to receive all the services for which he/she has contracted. Usually the contract must contain a clause that if the person agreeing to receive services moves further than 25 miles from the studio and if unable to transfer the contract to a comparable facility, the person only has to pay for the services received, plus a predetermined fee.(5) (Civ. Code, § 1812.89(b)(1) and (2).)

You have a right to cancel any health studio contract within three business days of signing the agreement. If you do so, you are entitled to a full refund. The three days do not include Sundays or holidays. Monies paid must be refunded within 10 days of receipt of the notice of cancellation, except that payment must be made for any services received prior to such cancellation. (Civ. Code, § 1812.85(b).)

Commercial Dance Studio Contracts

Civil Code section 1812.50, et seq. regulates contracts made with commercial dance studios. None of the following regulations apply to educational or performance-oriented dance studios.

Contracts for commercial dancing lessons must be in writing. You must receive an exact copy of the contract when you sign it. (Civ. Code, § 1812.52.)

No contract for commercial dance studio lessons and other services can require payment in excess of $3,750, nor payments or financing for more than two years from the date the contract is entered into, nor shall the term of such contract be measured by the life of the buyer. However, the lessons or services can extend to a period seven years from the date the contract is entered into. (Civ. Code, § 1812.53.)

Commercial dance lessons must begin within 12 months of the making of the contract. The contract must indicate the hourly rate you are being charged for the lessons, your right to cancel the contract, and the fact that the studio is bonded, or has put up a cash deposit in lieu of a bond. (Civ. Code, § 1812.54.)

You have a right to cancel a commercial dance contract at any time without giving a reason. The cancellation must be in writing and must be sent to the specific address given in the contract. If you give notice of cancellation within 180 days after you receive a copy of the contract, the dance studio must refund all your money within ten days. The only amount the studio can keep is the amount charged for lessons you took before you canceled the contract. For cancellation after 180 days, the dance studio can keep 10% of the unpaid balance and payment for the lessons already received. The contract terminates upon the death or disability of the customer if the person is unable to receive all services for which he/she has contracted. (Civ. Code, § 1812.57; but see footnote 30, supra.)

Mail-Order Goods

If you receive goods or services in the mail or delivered to your home that you did not order orally or in writing, you do not need to pay for them. These goods become gifts to you under California law. (There is an exception for contracted plans under which the seller periodically provides the consumer with a form to use to instruct the seller that he/she does not wish to keep the merchandise.) (Civ. Code, § 1584.5.)

If you receive unsolicited goods or services and the company that sent the goods tries to collect payment for the goods, you can go to court to stop the company from bothering you. If you win in court, you may also be awarded attorney's fees. You may wish to report such collection tactics to your local district attorney or to the Attorney General. (Civ. Code, § 1584.5.)

Door-to-Door Sales

For your protection, California and federal law now permit the buyer of certain products or services that are sold in the home, (including courses of instruction, but not including the services of real estate brokers, physicians, attorneys, security dealers or investment counselors, optometrists, dentists, and certain financial services, certain contractors, insurance sales and mobile homes or goods sold with them, and most vehicles or goods sold with them) to cancel a contract if the following conditions exist:

  • The contract is for more than $25, including any interest or service charges. The law applies to cash sales, as well as to installment sales.
  • The sale was made in the home.

If you sign a contract you made with a door-to-door salesperson, you have three days(6) to cancel the contract without obligation. Sundays and holidays are not counted in the three days. The contract has to explain all of this, and there must be a cancellation form attached to the contract that you can tear off and send in. The salesperson must write on that form the date of the contract and the date by which you must cancel. The salesperson must also tell you of your right to cancel. (Civ. Code, §§ 1689.5-1689.7.)

If you cancel a door-to-door contract, the company must return all of your down payment within 20 days of cancellation, and can make no charge for the cancellation. You must, of course, be willing to give back the goods if you have received any, and to take reasonable care of them while in your possession. However, the seller is responsible for collecting the goods, and if the seller fails to pick up the goods in 20 days, you may keep them. (Civ. Code, § 1689.11.)

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There are many types of insurance that provide valuable protection against accidents, illness, unemployment, and for survivors of deceased persons. In this chapter, four types of insurance are described:

  • medical insurance
  • disability insurance
  • automobile insurance
  • life insurance.

For each type of insurance, there is a description of the general protection given, types of benefits paid, and equal rights under insurance laws. For specific questions about your own policies, you should contact your insurance agent or the state Department of Insurance, Consumer Services Bureau.

No insurer is allowed to refuse to issue any contract of insurance or to cancel or decline to renew such insurance because of the sex, marital status or sexual orientation of the insured or prospective insured. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 10, § 2560.3.)

In November 1988, California voters passed Proposition 103 (Ins. Code, § 1861.01 et seq.), an insurance initiative requiring companies to reduce rates for automobile, fire and liability insurance and to offer a "good driver discount plan." In addition, it requires the state insurance commissioner to approve rate increases, applies the Unruh Civil Rights Act and antitrust laws to the insurance industry, makes the commissioner an elected position, and allows banks to sell insurance.(7)

Medical Insurance

Medical insurance pays all or part of your hospital and doctor bills when you are sick or injured. You may have an individual policy, a group policy through your employer, or you may be eligible for a state health care plan, such as Medi-Cal. Private and public employers are required to give covered employees notice before their medical, surgical or hospital benefits are discontinued. Major problems or concerns related to your health insurance should be directed to a private attorney.

Medical Insurance for Women

Medical insurance policies must have the same waiting periods for men as for women. However, a medical insurance policy, unless contained in an employee fringe benefit plan, may impose some minimum waiting period after the insurance coverage begins before the policy will pay for your pregnancy. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 10, § 2200.10.)

If your employer's group plan covers the wives and families of male workers, it must cover the husbands and families of female workers unless otherwise required by state law. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7291.1(b)(3); 29 C.F.R. § 1604.9(d).)

Medical insurance policies can ask women to have medical check-ups only if men are asked to have them also, unless otherwise required by state laws. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7291.1(b)(3).)

Medical insurance policies that include coverage for mastectomy and prosthetic devices and reconstructive surgery incident to mastectomy must provide coverage for mammography for screening and diagnostic purposes, upon the referral of the patient's physician. (Health & Saf. Code, § 1367.65.)

A medical insurance provider may not deny, refuse to enroll, refuse to renew, cancel, restrict or otherwise terminate, exclude or limit coverage, or charge an enrollee a different rate for the same coverage because the applicant or enrollee is, has been or may be a victim of domestic violence. (Health & Saf. Code, § 1374.75; and Ins. Code, § 10144.2.)

Sponsors of employee benefit plans that provide medical insurance are required to offer continuing coverage for persons who would otherwise lose their coverage because of the death of their spouse, termination from employment, a reduction in work hours, or as the result of a divorce or legal separation. (29 U.S.C. §§ 1161-1169; Health & Saf. Code, § 1366.20 et seq.)(8) If any of these events occur, you should contact your plan sponsor to notify it that you want to continue medical insurance coverage. The plan sponsor is required to provide you with information regarding rights and responsibilities relating to continuing coverage.

Beginning in 1998, group medical insurance providers for employers with more than 50 employees must offer comparable coverage for mental health benefits, as for medical and surgical benefits, unless such coverage results in an increase of at least 1%, and there is a limitation on pre-existing condition exclusion periods. (29 U.S.C. § 1185a and 42 U.S.C. § 300gg.)

Medical Insurance and Pregnancy

Where an employer of 15 or more employees offers health or disability insurance coverage to its employees, that employer is required to cover pregnancy and related medical conditions to the same extent that other medical conditions are covered (although an employer plan does not have to pay for an abortion, except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or where medical complications have arisen from an abortion.) (42 U.S.C. 2000e(b) and (k); 29 C.F.R. § 1604.10(b).)

A medical insurance policy must provide the same pregnancy coverage for unmarried employees as it does for married employees. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7292.6.)

Under the California Unemployment Insurance Code, a woman can collect disability benefits from the state for absences due to normal pregnancy if a doctor certifies that she is disabled. Such benefits can last for the same period allowed for any other disability. For information about pregnancy disability under California Unemployment Insurance, contact the state Disability Insurance office or the state Employment Development Department office nearest you. (Unemp. Ins. Code, § 2626(B)(1).) (9)

If employers not covered by Title VII provide more than six weeks of accrued leave for disability to temporarily disabled employees, they are required to provide at least six weeks of disability leave for pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Even if an employer provides less than four months' leave for temporarily disabled employees, it must provide up to four months' leave to an employee disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7291.)

On or after January 1, 1980, every group policy of disability insurance that covers hospital, medical or surgical expenses on a group basis and that offers maternity coverage in such group, shall also offer coverage for prenatal diagnosis of genetic disorders of the fetus by means of diagnostic procedures in cases of high-risk pregnancy. Such coverage will be offered under terms and conditions agreed upon between the insurer and the group policy holder. Prospective policyholders must be informed of the availability of such coverage. (Ins. Code, § 10123.9.)

You may not collect state unemployment payments if you left your job solely because you are pregnant. (Gunn v. Employment Development Department (1979) 94 Cal.App.3d 658.) You can collect state unemployment payments after the birth of your child or the end of your pregnancy, if you are able to work and your previous job has been filled and there is no comparable position for you. (Unemp. Ins. Code, §§ 1253 and 1256; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7291.9.)

It is illegal for you to be forced to leave your job because you are pregnant, unless in the opinion of your doctor or other licensed health care practitioner, you are unable to perform the essential duties of the job or to perform these duties without undue risk to yourself or other persons. Neither company policy nor a union collective bargaining agreement can require you to leave your job solely because you are pregnant. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 7291.2(d); 29 C.F.R. § 1604.10(b) and (c).)

Medical insurance policies cannot exclude coverage for medical complications arising from a pregnancy, such as complications arising from the termination of an ectopic pregnancy, or for disorders of the reproductive organs. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 10, § 2560.3; cf. Jerger v. Commercial Ins. Co. (Ohio Com. Pl. 1965) 211 N.E.2d 99.)

Effective January 1, 1998, health care service plan contracts are not allowed to restrict benefits for inpatient hospital care to a time period less than 48 hours following a normal vaginal delivery and less than 96 hours following a delivery by caesarian section, unless specified conditions are met. (Assem. Bill No. 38, 1997-1998 Reg. Sess.; Ins. Code, § 10123.87 and Health & Saf. Code, § 1367.62.)

Medical Insurance and Domestic Violence

Insurance companies cannot discriminate against you in the offering of medical insurance based on the fact that you are the victim of domestic violence. (Ins. Code § 10705; Health & Ins. Code § 1357.03.)


If a disability insurance policy or self-insured employee welfare benefit plan pays for sterilization, it cannot place an exclusion, limitation or reduction on such benefit based on the reason for requesting the sterilization. (Ins. Code, §§ 10120 -10121.)

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Private Disability Insurance

Private disability insurance pays you money to make up for wages lost when you are unable to work because of sickness or injury. Men and women in the same job must be offered the same private disability insurance coverage. Benefits from private disability insurance must cover the same time period for women and men. If a policy provides coverage for work men do at home or for a relative, then it must provide coverage for the same work done by women at home or for a relative. (Gov. Code, § 12940 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k).) Note: This does not mean that insurance companies must provide homemaker disability insurance.

Every policy of disability insurance that includes coverage for mastectomy and prosthetic devices and reconstructive surgery incidental to a mastectomy must provide coverage for mammography upon referral by a nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife or physician. (Ins. Code, § 10123.81.)

A disability insurance company cannot discriminate against a person carrying a gene which, under certain circumstances, may be associated with a disability in that person's offspring but not in her/him, such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle-cell anemia, thalassemia trait or X-linked hemophilia. (Ins. Code, § 10143.)

A disability insurance company cannot refuse to insure or charge a different rate to a person with a physical or mental impairment, unless to do so is based on sound actuarial principles or is related to actual and reasonably anticipated experience (Ins. Code, § 10144) nor can they refuse to insure, limit the coverage of or charge a different rate for the same coverage, solely because of blindness or partial blindness.(10) (Ins. Code, § 10145.)

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Automobile Insurance

California law requires that all drivers obtain car insurance, (11)  unless you qualify for other forms of financial responsibility allowed by law and carry in the vehicle evidence of the form of financial responsibility. (Veh. Code, § 16020, et seq.) Insurance required by state law covers injuries to yourself and your passengers if you are in an accident, and injuries to the drivers and passengers of the other cars, if the accident is your fault. Car insurance may also pay for damages to your car due to an accident or vandalism.

Automobile insurance rates have been based on your age, sex, driving record, and other factors. Your driving record is of primary importance, and distinctions on bases prohibited by the Unruh Act, such as age and sex, may be unlawful. (Ins. Code, § 1861.03; and 68 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 153 (1985).)

An auto insurance company can charge you premiums based on the driving records of members of your household, including your husband, even if the policy is in your name.

An auto insurance company can insist on writing a policy for your entire household, rather than for you as an individual.

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Life Insurance

Life insurance is money intended to provide for your spouse and children (or other family members or friends) should you die. The present statutory law allows a life insurance company to charge men and women different rates for life insurance. Life insurance companies use statistics on how long people are expected to live ("actuarial tables") to calculate different insurance rates for men and women. Women are usually expected to live longer, so their life insurance policy rates are usually lower. (Ins. Code, § 790.03(f).)

However, it is the opinion of the Attorney General that the Insurance Code provision that mandates gender-based differentials in the contracting of life insurance and life annuities violates the equal protection clauses of the United States and the California Constitutions. The Attorney General has opined that while women as a class may live longer than men as a class, statistics alone may not be sufficiently compelling to permit insurance companies to make broad generalizations that affect the benefits of individual women. (68 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 153 (1985.) The issue has not been decided by California courts.

If a life insurance company insures men with a particular type of job, it must insure women with the same type of job. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 10, § 2560.3(g).)

If a life insurance company asks for a physical examination as a precondition to insurance, it must require the exam of both men and women. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 10, § 2560.3(k).)

Life insurance companies must have the same conditions and benefits in their policies for women as those in their policies for men. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 10, § 2560.3(h),(i),(j),(l),(q) and (r).)

A life insurance company cannot discriminate against a person carrying a gene which, under certain circumstances, may be associated with a disability in that person's offspring but not in him/her, such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle-cell anemia or hemophilia. (Ins. Code, § 10143.)

Note: If a woman is unable to work due to pregnancy disability, she may collect disability benefits for absences due to pregnancy, where a doctor specifies that she was disabled. Pregnancy-related disability benefits are generally paid for a total of six weeks. See the chapters on Health Care and Employment for additional information.

You cannot be discriminated against in the issuance of life insurance on the grounds that you are the victim of domestic violence. (Ins. Code, § 10144.3.)

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Where to Go for Help With Insurance Problems

If you believe that you have been refused insurance or have been treated differently because you are a woman or because of your marital status, you may wish to contact one of the following:

California Department of Insurance, Consumer Services Bureau

Offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego
(800) 927-4357
(To file discrimination complaints, or ask questions about medical,
automobile, life, or private disability insurance.)

California Department of Corporations, Division of Health Care Services Plan

980 9th Street, Suite 500
Sacramento, CA 95814-2725
(916) 445-7205
(To ask questions about health maintenance organizations and some prepaid
insurance plans.)

California Employment Development Department

Offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego and other locations statewide.
(916) 653-0707
(To file discrimination complaints or ask questions about state disability and unemployment insurance.)

California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

Offices in Bakersfield, Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Ana and Ventura.
(800) 884-1684
(Discrimination in employment, housing and Unruh Civil Rights Act violations.)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Offices in San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Jose. (See Chapter Nine, Directory of Services, for addresses and telephone numbers of the agencies which may help you with a particular problem.)

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Eight public assistance programs that provide money and other benefits to needy persons are discussed below for your information. The information on public assistance provided in this handbook may not be completely accurate once recently enacted state and federal laws have been fully implemented. However, the following information will provide some basic guidelines for determining the public aid available and general eligibility criteria.

In August 1996, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ("The Welfare Reform Act"), that enacted a series of federal welfare and public assistance reforms. (Pub.L. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105, 8 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq.) This act places a five-year limit on welfare benefits and requires welfare recipients to join work programs.(12) (Ibid.) In addition to placing strict limits on the amount of welfare persons can receive, the new law restricts public aid to U.S. citizens and certain "qualified" aliens. Qualified aliens include: immigrants lawfully admitted for permanent residence under the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq. (INA), those granted asylum, those who were admitted to the United States under section 207 of the INA, those paroled into the United States for a period of at least one year, those whose deportation is being withheld, those granted conditional entry, and "battered" aliens if they don't reside in the same household as the batterer. (8 U.S.C. § 1641.) Legal resident aliens will no longer be eligible for public assistance for medical, social or health benefits. However, the changes in federal law that make legal immigrants ineligible for public assistance have been challenged in a case currently pending in the United States District Court, Northern District of California. (Sutich v. Callahan, Case No. C97-102SI.) States, including California, are required to implement the federal changes in state-controlled programs or risk losing federal funds. By the end of 1997, they were required to show that they had 75% of all two-parent welfare families in jobs or job-training and 25% of their total welfare caseload working. By 2002, they must have 90% of two-parent families and half of all families in work activities.

In anticipation of the federal welfare reform changes, on August 27, 1996, Governor Pete Wilson signed an executive order directing all state agencies and departments to identify programs subject to welfare reform restrictions regarding "unqualified" aliens, namely, illegal immigrants.(13)

On August 11, 1997, Governor Wilson signed into law the Thompson-Maddy-Ducheny-Ashburn Welfare to Work Act of 1997 (Assem. Bill No. 1542 (1997-1998 Reg. Sess.), that went into effect January 1, 1998, for the 2.5 million Californians, including 1.7 million children, who receive family welfare benefits, and that substitutes the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids, or CALWORKS for the old AFDC program. CALWORKS allows cash or voucher payments up to the value of three months of aid to prevent the need for assistance. The Act provides for a five-year lifetime limit of welfare benefits for adults, but their children can still receive vouchers or cash grants and the counties have the option of providing parents with employment or other services, for which they may require the parents to work. Current recipients are limited to 24 consecutive months of aid, while new applicants are limited to 18 consecutive months; counties may, in some cases, extend that to 24 months. (The federal Welfare Reform Act allows the states to exempt from the five-year lifetime limit up to 20% of their caseload for hardship cases, including parents and caretakers over the age of 60; disabled, ill or incapacitated parents, or caretakers of disabled children; and non-needy caretaker relatives.)

The Act provides that grants will be reduced for adults who do not keep school-age children in the classroom or who do not cooperate with county officials to establish paternity of a child or to recover child support from a spouse. The Act also requires that children be immunized within 30 days of a family being declared eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's health care system for the poor.

Able-bodied recipients are required to earn their benefits, either through community service, job-search activities, or job training at the rate of up to 32 hours a week (35 hours per week from the beginning for two-parent families).(14) After eighteen months to two years, recipients who have unsuccessfully sought work will move into community service jobs while their search for regular work continues; grant benefits will be eliminated for parents who do not cooperate.

It is estimated that 500,000 more jobs within five years will need to be created to be able to put welfare recipients to work. A community college will provide various educational services to CALWORKS recipients. Assembly Bill No. 1542 requires the establishment of job creation and development and job training programs for CALWORKS recipients and other low-income individuals. Recipients must accept any valid job offer they receive; refusing an offer can mean the end of an adult's share of benefits. Allowable work-related activities include unsubsidized employment; on-the-job training; community service; vocational training (including GED (General Educational Development), English as a Second Language, community college and adult education); work experience; work study; grant diversion; and county-funded treatment for mental health or for drug and alcohol abuse (substance abusers will have at least two opportunities to receive treatment, but cannot be in treatment for over six months without concurrent work activity, unless treatment is full-time, live-in), and domestic violence counseling (the state will pay for benefits for legal immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse and are, or were, married to permanent residents or United States citizens).

CALWORKS recipients who move into jobs can receive services to help them keep working. These include child care,(15) (the bill includes $300 million in child-care funding), transitional Medi-Cal coverage, and help with enforcing child-support orders.

Benefits can be lost for life for anyone convicted of serious welfare fraud, such as claiming fictitious children or seeking benefits from more than one county. (Welfare fraud of less than $2,000 results in a two-year ban on aid, while fraud of from $2,000 to $5,000 results in a five-year ban.)(16)

In addition to changes in federal law, in November 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187, that limits state-funded public assistance to U.S. citizens, legal alien permanent residents, and certain legal temporary alien residents.(17) Illegal aliens will no longer be eligible for public assistance for medical, social or health care benefits funded with state funds. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 10001.5; Health & Saf. Code, §130.) Proposition 187 was found unconstitutional in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Wilson (1998) ___ F.Supp. ____, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3418. This ruling will not affect the recent restrictions of federally-funded assistance programs, such as welfare benefits, Medi-Cal, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC.)

If you believe that you may qualify for any of the benefits listed below, you are advised to contact the agencies listed to determine your eligibility. All of the agencies listed will be affected by the recent changes in federal and state laws. (See Chapter Nine, Directory of Services, for addresses and telephone numbers of these agencies.)

Food Stamps

Food stamps are vouchers that you can exchange for food. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 18900 et seq.; 7 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq.; 7 C.F.R. § 271.1 et seq.) The amount of food stamps to which you are entitled is calculated according to the number of persons in the household. The monetary amount changes each October. Newly-passed Assembly Bill 1542 establishes the Electronics Benefit Transfer Committee to oversee the development and implementation of a statewide electronic benefits transfer system, that would apply to food stamps and other benefits.


You are eligible for food stamps if:

  • You are a U.S. citizen or a "qualified alien" resident.
  • Your maximum gross income, which is all income earned and unearned, including any form of public assistance, does not exceed a certain amount per month per person in the household (these figures change annually);
  • Your maximum adjusted income (net) is no greater than a certain amount per month per person (these figures change annually);
  • You have no more than a certain amount in resources (for one person); and
  • You are registered to work.

If you are elderly or disabled and live in a separate household, you are eligible if your maximum gross income is no greater than a certain amount per person. You must be a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien resident to be eligible for food stamps. (7 U.S.C. § 2015(f); 7 C.F.R. § 273.4.)

Discrimination is prohibited when determining eligibility for assistance. State and federal law prohibits discrimination against any household by reason of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, marital status or political belief to the extent not in conflict with federal law in determining your eligibility for food stamps. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 18907; 7 C.F.R. § 272.6.)

Determining Your Adjusted Income

To determine your adjusted income, first take your monthly income, then subtract the following amounts (deductions):

  • Generally, a food stamp household can deduct 20% of its earnings from work.
  • A standard deduction of a set amount. This amount will be increased every October by a cost of living factor.
  • Dependent care costs, if you pay them so someone in the household can earn up to a certain amount.
  • Shelter costs (rent, mortgage, utilities, basic telephone, etc.) These costs may not exceed a certain amount per month in 48 states, including California.

A household with a member who is 60 or older, or who gets Social Security because she/he is disabled, can deduct the medical expenses of that person over a specified amount each month. Those households can also deduct unlimited shelter costs, as opposed to other households, that are limited to a maximum deduction.

Note: Women residing in a shelter for battered women may qualify for food stamps if they prepare their own food and meet the other criteria listed here.

Expedited Assistance

Food stamp applicants may be eligible for expedited assistance if they meet certain criteria. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 18914(c).)

For Assistance

For information regarding current eligibility requirements and assistance with regard to food stamps, please call your county's social services department and ask for the Food Stamp Program.

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Medi-Cal is a federal and state program of medical assistance for needy and low-income California residents.(18) (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 14000 et seq.) No period of residency is required to establish California residency. However, new federal eligibility requirements will limit assistance to U.S. citizens or "qualified alien" residents. (Welf & Inst. Code, § 14007.5.)(19)

Note: Emergency medical care is available without any eligibility restrictions, based upon need.


Eligibility for the Medi-Cal program in California is restricted to U.S. citizens or "qualified aliens" who are also eligible to:

  • receive supplemental security income through the state supplemental payment program (SSI/SSP);
  • receive AFDC; (20)
  • are medically needy, are over 65 years old, blind, disabled or who meet the family circumstances required for AFDC; or
  • are medically indigent.


Medi-Cal benefits include hospitalization, medically necessary doctors' visits, dental care, x-rays, prescriptions, and nursing home care. State law requires many Medi-Cal recipients to make co-payments of a certain amount each time they receive medical service, or when they go to an emergency room and do not really need emergency services. However, medical care or non-drug services cannot be denied for failure to make co-payments. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 14134 and 14134.1; 42 U.S.C. § 13960(e).) Pursuant to newly enacted Welfare and Institutions Code section 14016.5, persons can receive benefits from the fee-for-service sector.

Discrimination is prohibited. State law prohibits licensed long-term health care facilities participating as a provider under the Medi-Cal program from discriminating against a Medi-Cal patient on the basis of the source of payment for the facility's services. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 14124.10.)

For Assistance

Call the California Department of Health Services and ask for the Medi-Cal program.

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Aid to Families with Dependent Children

"AFDC" provides money and services to needy families with children for a limit of five years to eligible recipients. AFDC is governed by federal and state laws, but the program is run by your county welfare department. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 11200 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq.) The Ninth Circuit ruled that recent migrants were entitled to a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of Welfare and Institutions Code § 11450.03, that limits benefits to new residents in California for their first year of residency to the amount they received under the AFDC program in their state of prior residence. (Roe v. Anderson (9th Cir. 1998) 134 F.4th 1400.)


You may be eligible for AFDC if:

  • You are a U.S. citizen or "qualified alien;"(21) and
  • You are a single parent or pregnant woman in "need;" or
  • Your children under 18 years of age lack parental support due to death, physical and mental incapacity, or unemployment of, or desertion by, one or both parents. Eighteen-year-olds may be eligible for assistance if they are attending high school or vocational school full-time and will graduate before their 19th birthday. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 11250 and 11253.)

Need is based on your income and personal assets. Child deprivation means that one parent is absent from the home, disabled, deceased or unemployed or working less than 100 hours per month. Mothers, as well as fathers, can be considered unemployed parents under the AFDC program.

Note: You may qualify for food stamps if you qualify for AFDC.


Maximum benefits for AFDC may be adjusted annually in July to reflect cost of living increases, and are expressed in terms of maximum amounts per persons in the household. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 11450 and 11453.) The federal restriction prohibiting aid to qualified aliens for five years beginning on the date of their entry into the United States applies to AFDC benefits. (8 U.S.C. § 1613.)

For Assistance

Please call your county's social services department and ask for the AFDC program.

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Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental security income (SSI) is a federal program that provides financial assistance to needy people who are over 65, blind or disabled. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 12000 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq.)


You are eligible for SSI if you:

  • are 65 years of age or older or disabled or blind; and
  • have a limited income and limited resources. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 12050; 12150.)

According to Welfare and Institution Code section 12103, no citizenship requirement shall be imposed for SSI. However, section 402 of the Welfare Reform Act denies SSI to all noncitizen groups except (1) refugees, for the first five years after their admission into the United States; (2) persons granted asylum, for five years after they attain such status; (3) veterans and those on active duty (training excluded) and their spouses and unmarried dependent children; and (4) legal immigrants who established credit for minimum 40 quarters of covered employment. (Pub.L. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105, 8 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq.)


The maximum SSI benefits are set forth in section 12000 of the Welfare and Institutions Code and are subject to annual cost of living increases in January of each year, although for many years such increases have not been granted and amounts have been decreased, except to the extent federal benefits have been increased. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 12201, 12200.018 and 12201.03.)

If you are living in the household of another and receiving room and board in-kind, your benefits will be lower than those set forth in Welfare and Institutions Code section 12200. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 12200(i).)

If you are eligible for the above benefits, you will receive a Medi-Cal card, that entitles you to many free medical services. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 12305.)

If you are living where you cannot prepare your own meals, you are entitled to an extra allowance. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 12303.7.)

If you are living in a non-medical board care facility, the basic benefit is a certain amount per month. Additionally, you are entitled to a minimum amount for your personal needs not provided by the facility out of this first amount. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 12200(g) and (h).)

For Assistance

Please call the Social Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and ask for the SSI program.

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Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Currently, unemployment insurance benefits (UIB) shall not exceed the lower of 26 times the weekly benefit amount or one-half the total wages paid during the base period, and may be extended to 52 times the weekly benefit during periods of high unemployment. (Unemp. Ins. Code, §§ 1281(b); 1271.)

You are eligible if:

  • You are out of work because you were laid off through no fault of your own, or because you quit for good cause (terminated under the compulsory retirement provisions of a collective bargaining agreement, because you left employment to accompany a spouse to a place from where it was impractical to commute to employment, because you elected to be laid off instead of a person with less seniority pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, you were usually harassed, because you were fired for something other than misconduct). (Unemp. Ins. Code, §§ 1256 and 1256.7); and
  • You are able and available to work, and you have been unemployed for a waiting period of one week, you make a claim for benefits, you registered for work and continued to report for work (these requirements can be waived), you conducted a suitable search for work and, unless good cause for not doing so is shown, you participated in reemployment activities, such as orientation and assessment (Unemp. Ins. Code § 1253); and
  • You earned at least $1,300 during the quarter of your base period during which your wages were the highest from a UIB-covered employer during the "base period." The base period is defined in the Unemployment Insurance Code, §§ 1281 and 1275(a)(3)(A); or
  • You earned at least $900 during the base period in which your wages were the highest and you were paid wages during your base period equal to 1.25 times the amount you were paid in this same period. (Unemp. Ins. Code, § 1281.)

There are restrictions on the eligibility of aliens for unemployment benefits. (Unemp. Ins. Code, § 1264.)

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State Disability Insurance


You are eligible for state disability insurance (SDI) (Unemployment Insurance Code, section 2601 et seq.) if you:

  • Are suffering a loss of wages as a result of a disability;(22)
  • Have a doctor's certificate(23) that you are unable to do "regular and customary" work; (Unemp. Ins. Code § 2708)
  • Were not injured on the job and, therefore, eligible to receive other benefits; (Unemp. Ins. Code § 2629)
  • Have been paid wages of a minimum of $300 by your employer during your disability base period.(24) (Unemp. Ins. Code § 2652)
  • Have made a claim for disability benefits, have been unemployed and disabled for a waiting period of seven consecutive days during which no benefits are payable, and with certain exceptions, have submitted to reasonable examinations. (Unemp. Ins. Code § 2627)

Note: If you were injured on the job, you may be eligible for workers' compensation. (Lab. Code, § 3200 et seq.) You are not eligible for benefits if you willfully make false statements or representations or withhold information in order to obtain benefits (Unemp. Ins. Code § 2675), are incarcerated (Unemp. Ins. Code § 2680), or committed a crime during at the time the injury was caused (Unemp. Ins. Code § 2631). Proposition 187 provides that no benefits, including disability insurance, shall be payable to persons present in the United States in violation of federal law. The constitutionality of Proposition 187 is being litigated. (See discussion, supra.)


The maximum amount paid an individual during one disability benefit period generally shall be 52 times the weekly benefit amount, but in no case more than the total wages paid to the claimant during his/her disability base period. (Unemp. Ins. Code, § 2653.)

For Assistance

Please call the California Employment Development Department office nearest you and ask about disability insurance claims. You may also want to contact a private attorney.

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Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

Good nutrition, including foods rich in protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and D, is very important during the critical times of growth and development of a child. WIC is a wholly federally-funded program that provides nutritious food supplements and nutrition counseling to pregnant and nursing women and to infants and children who are five years old or younger. (42 U.S.C. §§ 1786 et seq.; 7 C.F.R. § 246 et seq.) You may qualify for this program if you are in need because of low income and have nutrition-related health problems. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 22, § 40601 et seq.) The food supplements include iron-fortified formula, fortified milk and cheese, eggs, iron-rich cereals and fruit juices. This program is specifically exempt from the restrictions on eligibility contained in the Welfare Reform Act, and therefore, "unqualified aliens" may be eligible for benefits. (Pub.L. 104-193; Stat. 2105, 8 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq.) The welfare reform laws leave the discretion of who is eligible to receive public assistance to the decision of the individual states. At the present time, California does not limit benefits to legal or qualified aliens. (Health & Saf. Code, § 123275 et seq.)(25)

For more information about WIC programs in your area, you may want to contact:

Department of Health Services
WIC Supplemental Food Section
3901 Lennane Dive
Sacramento, CA 95834
(916) 928-8500

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General Assistance

Benefits and requirements vary from county to county. Call your county's social services department and ask for the General Assistance program. It should be noted that the final regulations implementing the recently enacted federal welfare reform laws and the court challenges to Proposition 187 have not yet been completed. You will have to direct specific questions on eligibility to the agency providing the services you desire. (The Court of Appeal held that a General Assistance standard of aid adopted pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 17000.5 satisfied a county's obligation not only to provide eligible persons with food, clothing and shelter, but also with medical care. (Caulk v. Superior Court (1998) _____Cal.App.4th ______, 98 Daily Journal D.A.R. 1975.).)

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  1. The seven years commences to run upon the expiration of the 180-day period beginning on the date of the commencement of the delinquency that preceded the collection or other activity. Back to link 1
  2. Notification should occur within 90 days after notification of a counter offer if the applicant does not expressly accept or use the credit offered. (12 C.F.R. § 202.9(a)(iv).) Back to link 2
  3. The California Supreme Court recently held that the Unruh Civil Rights Act is limited in its application to discrimination based on personal characteristics, the categories listed in Civil Code section 51, and the categories previously recognized by case law. (Harris v. Capital Growth Investors XIV (1991) 52 Cal.3d 1142 (holding that economic discrimination in the rental of an apartment is not covered by the Act).) Back to link 3
  4. Laws governing health care service plans or insurer underwriting or rating practices are not affected by this provision. Back to link 4
  5. Of course, if a person with a disability wishes to join a health club, or wants to continue with his/her membership following a disability, the health club may not terminate his/her contract. A health club is a public accommodation and a business establishment that must be accessible to persons with disabilities. (Civ. Code § 51; 42 U.S.C. 12182 (a).) Back to link 5
  6. You have seven business days to cancel a home solicitation contract or offer for the purchase of a personal emergency response unit, or for the repair or restoration of residential premises damaged by certain disasters. (Civ. Code, § 1689.6(b) and (c).) Back to link 6
  7. The California Court of Appeal recently held that the Fair Employment and Housing Commission does not have jurisdiction over insurance providers in complaints alleging violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. (Wilson v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 1213.) Back to link 7
  8. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to review a decision by the 8th Circuit that an employer is not obligated under the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1986 to temporarily provide continued health insurance when a former employee, both before and after termination, was covered under a spouse's or domestic partner's group health plan that had no "pre-existing condition" provision and presented no "significant gap" in coverage. (Geissal v. Moore Medical Corp. Case No. 97-689.) Back to link 8
  9. See Chapter One regarding Employment for a complete discussion of the rights of pregnant women in the work place and an explanation of the California Family Rights Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Back to link 9
  10. Furthermore, effective January 1, 1998, disability insurers providing health coverage and health service plans cannot refuse to accept an application for insurance, refuse to issue or renew a policy, cancel a policy, or deny coverage under any policy because the applicant or any person to be insured is, or has been, a victim of domestic violence, except as specified in Insurance Code section 10144.2. (See also Ins. Code, § 10198.9.) Back to link 10
  11. Proposition 213, passed by California voters in 1996, prohibits uninsured motorists and drunk drivers from collecting non-economic damages in any action arising out of the operation or use of a motor vehicle (Civ. Code, § 3333.3), and has recently been found not to violate the due process clause or equal protection clause of the California Constitution. (Yoshioka v. Superior Court (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 972; Quackenbush v. Superior Court (1997) 60 Cal.App.4th 454. Back to link 11
  12. Under the law, the first 20 hours (or the first 30 hours in a two-parent family) of work activity will have to consist of employment, on-the-job training, unpaid work experience, community service, job searches of less than six weeks, vocational training of up to 12 months, care of the children of someone participating in community service, or high school attendance for teen parents. After those hours, the following activities may count toward work participation goals: job searches beyond six weeks, job training directly related to employment, education related to employment for those who have not finished high school, or satisfactory attendance in high school or an equivalent program. Back to link 12
  13. The Court of Appeal recently ruled that a trial court could not enjoin the state from enacting emergency regulations to comply with the Welfare Reform Act's provisions precluding the expenditure of public funds to furnish illegal aliens with routine prenatal health services. (Doe v. Wilson (1997) 57 Cal.App.4th 296.) However, permanent regulations are being drafted that specify a requirement for continued prenatal care for some battered women. Back to link 13
  14. Exempt from the work requirements are parents with infants under 6 months of age (the county has the option to extend this to one year); parents with children aged 10 and under, if no child care is available; domestic violence victims; pregnant women; participants in Cal-Learn (a program designed to provide schooling for teenagers on welfare with no high school diploma); all non-needy caretaker relatives; and persons with other good causes. Back to link 14
  15. A system of child care will be available beginning with a client's entry into CALWORKS until a family's income reaches 75% of the state median. Direct state payments will be made to providers, and a sliding-fee payment schedule will be charged for all parents in all programs. Back to link 15
  16. Under separate legislation (Assem. Bill No. 1008, 1997-1998 Reg. Sess.) effective January 1, 1998, those convicted of possession, use or distribution of controlled substances will be denied welfare, although their children will be eligible for vouchers for rent and utilities. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 11251.3 and 17012.5.) Back to link 16
  17. Proposition 187 states that persons present in the United States in violation of federal law may not be provided with public social services and publicly-funded health care, except for emergency medical care as required by federal law. Back to link 17
  18. There is a wholly state-funded component of Medi-Cal called "Restricted Scope Medi-Cal." Under this state program, there are benefits, that include pregnancy-related services and long-term care, that are available to persons unable to meet the immigration status requirements of the federal Medicaid law. At the present time, there are proposed regulations to conform state law with federal welfare reform laws that would eliminate these services for "unqualified aliens." Back to link 18
  19. Under the 1997 Congressional budget agreement, $24 billion will be set aside over the next five years for medical care for uninsured children. States will be able to use the money to expand Medicaid, expand other programs, like those for state workers, or spend up to 15 percent of the money to pay administrative expenses, to locate uninsured children, and to buy services directly from doctors, hospitals and clinics. States would have to spend a substantial amount of their own money to qualify for these federal funds, but could charge small premiums, deductibles and other fees to low-income families. Back to link 19
  20. AFDC will be replaced by a block grant known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or "TANF" under the new federal reform laws, beginning in the summer of 1998. Back to link 20
  21. Children who are U.S. citizens remain eligible to receive public assistance, even if their parents are no longer eligible. Back to link 21
  22. Disability includes an illness or injury, whether physical or mental, including any illness or injury resulting from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition; inability to work because of a communicable disease; under treatment for acute alcoholism and under treatment for an acute drug-involved illness. (Unemp. Ins. Code, § 2626.) Back to link 22
  23. No doctor's exam is required if it is against your religion, in which case a certificate from a duly authorized practitioner of your religion may be substituted. (Unemp. Ins. Code, § 2709.) Back to link 23
  24. Disability benefit base period generally means the continuous period of unemployment and disability beginning with the first day with respect to which you file a valid claim for benefits. Two consecutive periods of disability due to the same or related cause or condition and separated by a period of not more than 14 days shall be considered as one disability benefit period. Back to link 24
  25. Due to the requirements under the new federal welfare reform laws, California passed Assembly bill 1542 in 1997, which indicates the eligibility requirements the state will be following in dispensing WIC funds. In addition, the restrictions of Proposition 187, the constitutionality of which presently is challenged, limiting state-funded public services and benefits to legal resident aliens, would not be applicable to WIC funds because there are no state funds in the WIC program. Back to link 25

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