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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I contact SonomaWORKS?

The home page of this website has a link called “Contact.”  In addition, the address and phone number of the SonomaWORKS office is located on the bottom left-hand corner of each page of the website.  Our main phone number is 707-565-5500.

How do I apply for SonomaWORKS?

To apply for SonomaWORKS, you will need to go to the office located at 2227 Capricorn Way, Suite 100 in Santa Rosa (see map on the “Contact” page).  You will be asked to fill out some initial paperwork, and will be given an application appointment date, as well as a list of specific paperwork to bring with you see if you are eligible.  Expect that the application process will take from 2-4 hours. 

How long will it take to get aid?

It depends. When you come in for your appointment, be sure to bring all the forms and paperwork you were asked to bring so the worker can determine if you are eligible. We realize that your benefits are important to you, and we will work with you to get your benefits to you as quickly as possible.

Where can I go if I need help sooner?

Talk to your worker- they may have access to resources. you can also call 2-1-1, or visit their website at www.211wc.org to get help.

What’s the difference between the terms “SonomaWORKS,” “CalWORKs,” and “TANF?”

Each of these words refer to the same temporary cash assistance and employment program:  At the federal level, it’s called TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families); at the state level, it’s called CalWORKs; and in Sonoma County, it’s called SonomaWORKS.

Here in Sonoma County, you’ll hear our welfare-to-work program called “SonomaWORKS,” while most cases that are for children only (no adults receiving aid) are called “TANF.”

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Who will be my worker?

When you apply for SonomaWORKS, an employment & training specialist will determine if you are eligible for the program.  In addition, your employment & training specialist will determine if you must participate in employment activities and, if so, he or she will sign you up for your first activity.

Once your case has been approved, you will be assigned to a new eligibility worker or employment & training specialist as well as an employment & training counselor.

Your eligibility worker (EW) or your employment & training specialist (ETS) will:

    • Manage your cash aid, CalFresh (Food Stamps) and Medi-Cal benefits
    • Process your quarterly income report (QR7)
    • Assist you and your family in obtaining self-sufficiency, if applicable

In addition, your employment & training counselor (ETC) will:

    • Assist you in developing your Welfare-to-Work plan
    • Assist you in improving your ability to obtain a better job
    • Authorize supportive services and make referrals to services
    • Assist you and your family in obtaining self-sufficiency
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What happens after I apply?

After you apply, you will need to make sure that your worker has all of the paperwork he or she needs to determine if you are eligible for SonomaWORKS.  Once a determination is made, you will receive a letter in the mail, called a “Notice of Action,” that will explain if you are eligible or not.  If not eligible, it will explain why you are not eligible for benefits. 

If you are eligible, you may be required to participate in the SonomaWORKS program in order to maintain your eligibility for the program.  See below for information on participation requirements.

What are the participation requirements?

While you are in the SonomaWORKS program, you will be asked to participate in activities to help you find a job, or get a better job, so that you can become self-sufficient.

    • If you are an adult in a one-parent family you will be required to participate in approved welfare-to-work activities for at least 32 hours a week, every week that you are a SonomaWORKS participant.
    • If you are an adult in a two-parent family, and are receiving a cash grant due to unemployment, you and the other parent will be required to participate in Welfare-to-Work employment activities for at least 35 hours a week, every week that you are a SonomaWORKS participant. Both parents may participate and combine their hours to meet the 35 hours a week participation requirements, but one of the parents must participate for a minimum of 20 hours a week.
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What activities will I be signing up for?

When you first start in the SonomaWORKS program, your first activity will probably be a four-week job search program called “Initial Job Search.”  If you can’t attend this activity for some reason (you’re already working, you’re going to school full-time, you’re a victim of domestic violence, etc.), your first activity will probably be an “assessment” with an employment and training counselor.

Based on your skills, education and work history, your employment and training counselor will work with you to select a sequence of activities you need to find a job and improve your family’s income so that you are no longer eligible for SonomaWORKS.

What are some possible activities that I may do as a SonomaWORKS participant?

Welfare-to-Work activities might include:

    • Initial job search
    • An assessment by an employment and training counselor
    • Part-time or full-time employment
    • Community service (gain work experience in a non-profit or public agency)
    • Vocational education
    • Basic education
    • Work study
    • Activities to help you return or stay at work including mental health services, alcohol or other drug services, legal services, learning disability services and/or domestic violence services.

If you earn too much money to stay in the SonomaWORKS program, you may be eligible for additional services for up to 12 months after you go off of aid:

    • Job retention services
    • Transportation expenses
    • Employment expenses – books, fees, tools, special clothing, etc.
    • Case management services – job planning and counseling
    • Referrals to other needed services

In addition, you may be eligible for child care services for up to 24 months after you get a job and leave SonomaWORKS.

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What partner agencies work with SonomaWORKS?

Many partner agencies work with SonomaWORKS to help you in your goal to become self-sufficient.  Some of these agencies, where you might participate in welfare-to-work activities, include:

    • The Center for Social and Environmental Stewardship
    • Empire College
    • Goodwill Industries of the Redwood Empire
    • Job Link (and its many partner agencies)
    • Petaluma Adult School
    • Petaluma People Services
    • Santa Rosa Junior College
    • West County Community Services

What are supportive services?

Supportive Services are available to help you find and keep a job.  Let your specialist or counselor know if you need any of the following services while participating in SonomaWORKS activities:

    • Child care (payment goes directly to the child care provider) – see our SonomaWORKS child care handbook for more information
    • Job coaching and counseling
    • Mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence services
    • Transportation (such as bus passes and gas vouchers, etc.)
    • Work or training related expenses (books, tools, special clothing, etc.)
    • Referrals to other necessary services
    • Services to help you keep your job

Before supportive services can be provided, all services must be approved by your specialist or counselor.

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How does working benefit me?

By working, you:

    • Increase your income
    • Become a role model for your family
    • Gain financial security
    • Receive freedom from other people and public programs
    • Obtain experience to get a better job
    • Develop self-esteem
    • Build a better future

Which of these benefits is most important to you?

Use our earnings calculator to see how your income might impact your grant.

What happens if I’m not ready to work?

If you feel that you have a good reason for not participating in the SonomaWORKS program, you need to let your specialist or counselor know so that you aren’t penalized (see question below, “What happens if I don’t participate”). 

Your specialist or counselor will decide if you have a good reason for not participating in the program.  Some good reasons for not participating include:

    • Physical incapacity (temporary or permanent)
    • Mental health issues (such as severe depression, etc.)
    • Domestic violence issues
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Who doesn’t have to participate?

All CalWORKs recipients can benefit from participating in SonomaWORKS Welfare-to-Work activities.  Everyone who is not “exempt” is required to participate.  If you are “exempt” you can volunteer to participate.  You can be “exempt” for the following reasons:

    • You are a parent or other relative who has primary responsibility for personally providing care to a child six months of age or under may be entitled to this one-time exemption.
    • You are under 16 years old and not a custodial parent, or 60 years or older.
    • You are 16, 17 or 18 years old and go to school (not college) full-time, unless you are in school as one of your welfare-to-work activities or you are a custodial parent.
    • You have a disability that is expected to last at least 30 days and that would keep you from working or participating in a welfare-to-work activity, and you are either getting or trying to get the medical help you need.
    • You are pregnant and a doctor states that you cannot work or participate in welfare-to-work activities (this exemption does not apply if you are a teen parent required to participate in the SonomaWORKS Teen Parent Program).
    • You are the non-parent relative caretaker of a child who is a dependent or ward of the court, or a child at risk of placement in foster care and we decide that taking care of the child keeps you from working or participating in a welfare-to-work activity on a regular basis.
    • You must stay at home to take care of someone in the household who is unable to care for himself or herself if it keeps you from working or participating in a welfare-to-work activity on a regular basis (this exemption does not apply if you are a teen parent required to participate in the SonomaWORKS Teen Parent Program).

How long can I get assistance?

Adults can receive CalWORKs benefits for up to 48 months in their lifetime.  This 48-month “time clock” does not apply to children in California.  There may be exceptions to this rule; talk to your EW or ETS about these.

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How are benefits paid?

Benefits are loaded on to your Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. This card looks and acts like an ATM card. If you are also receiving CalFresh (food stamps), they are also loaded on to the same card. For help with your EBT card, call the customer service number: 1-877-328-9677. For more information about EBT cards, visit the Electronic Benefit Transfer Project home page.

What happens if I’m already in school when I apply for SonomaWORKS?

If you are already in school or other job training before you start the SonomaWORKS program, you may be considered as a Self-Initiated Program (SIP).  You are in a SIP when you are enrolled in a training or education program on your own, before you start job search or another assigned welfare-to-work activity.  If your SIP is approved, it will help you meet your work requirements for CalWORKs.

An “approvable” SIP is one where:

    • You will earn a degree or certificate, and
    • You are making “satisfactory progress,” and
    • Your program “leads to employment.”

If you already have a four-year college degree, you can only be in a SIP if you are studying to earn a teaching credential.

If your SIP is not approved, you will be allowed to finish your current term.  At that time, if you are still in school, you must either change to a degree or certificate program that will lead to work, or do a different welfare-to-work activity.

What happens after I get a job?

Once you get a job, your specialist will let you know how your earnings will impact your budget.

If you do not earn too much money, you can stay in SonomaWORKS and continue participating in welfare-to-work activities; your job will be your primary activity.

If you earn too much money to stay in the SonomaWORKS program, you may be eligible for additional services for up to 12 months:

    • Job retention services
    • Transportation expenses
    • Employment expenses – books, fees, tools, special clothing, etc.
    • Case management services – job planning and counseling
    • Referrals to other needed services

In addition, you may be eligible for child care services for up to 24 months after you leave SonomaWORKS.

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How do I report my participation in SonomaWORKS?

To earn your grant and supportive services you must be able to verify attendance at work (pay stubs or signed timesheet) and other welfare-to-work activities.  For activities other than work, you will need to turn in an attendance report twice a month signed off by your service provider.
Depending on your work activity assignment, failure to turn in attendance reports could mean the end of supportive services like child care and transportation.
Failure to turn in your QR7 (with pay stubs, if appropriate) will lead to the termination of cash aid grant.
Your specialist or counselor will let you know how attendance will be verified for each of your SonomaWORKS activities.
If you are unable to attend your activity due to illness, etc., you must call both the activity provider and your counselor.
If you enrolled in an education or training program, standards for attendance and satisfactory progress will be defined by your school or training provider. If appropriate, you will be expected to give copies of your report card to your counselor.  For your study hours to count as a work activity, they must be noted on your attendance form and signed off by your school.

What happens if I don’t participate?

If you do not cooperate with your requirements, or you refuse to accept a job offer, quit a job, or reduce your earnings, you may be sanctioned. A sanction will reduce your family’s monthly income (grant amount).

If you stop participating in SonomaWORKS, you will receive a “Notice of Action” asking you to explain why you are not participating.  When you are notified that you are not complying with your welfare-to-work plan (missing appointments, or not attending your activities), you will have 20 days to give a good reason for not cooperating. This is called a “cause determination”.

The cause determination’s goal is to help you resume your participation in the activity, so you can continue to earn your full cash grant and find a job.

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How do I end my sanction?

If your family is getting less cash aid because of a welfare-to-work sanction, you can stop your sanction and earn your full cash aid grant by contacting your specialist or counselor and telling them that you want your cash aid restored to full amount.  You may be referred to one of our “sanction clinics.”  Your counselor will meet with you to develop an agreement of what you will need to do in order to “cure” your sanction.  Once you have met the terms of the agreement, your sanction will end and your cash aid will be restored.  You must continue to participate in SonomaWORKS activities every week that you receive aid in order to maintain your eligibility at your full grant.

What if I have more questions?

If you have additional questions, please read the SonomaWORKS client handbook or call the SonomaWORKS office at 707-565-5500.

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