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

These are different names for the same government-funded, temporary, cash assistance and employment program. At the federal level, it’s called TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families); at the state level, CalWORKs; and in our county, SonomaWORKS. Most aid for children only (no adults receiving aid) is called TANF.

What happens after I apply?

You’ll get a letter in the mail, called a “Notice of Action,” to let you know if you are eligible for benefits. If you are eligible, you may be required to join the SonomaWORKS program to maintain your eligibility. If you’re not eligible, the letter will explain why not.

How long will it take to get my benefits?

To make the process go as fast as possible, it’s important that you bring all the requested forms and paperwork to your office appointment. Once we have determined that you are eligible and your paperwork goes in, however, we can’t guarantee how fast you’ll get aid.

If you need immediate help, talk to your worker, and call 2-1-1 or visit for referrals to local services and programs.

How are benefits paid?

Benefits are loaded on to your Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. This plastic card acts like an ATM card. If you also receive CalFresh, your aid is loaded onto 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.

How long can I get assistance?

Adults can receive SonomaWORKS benefits for up to 48 months total during their lifetimes. This rule does not apply to children on TANF. Talk to our staff for details.

What activities will I do while on SonomaWORKS?

Your first activity will probably be a four-week job search program. If you can’t attend (because you’re already working, going to school full-time, 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 counselor will work with you to define steps to take to find a job and improve your family’s income.

What are other activities may be included in my SonomaWORKS program?

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 (work experience at a non-profit or public agency)
  • Vocational education or classes that lead you to a specific job
  • Basic education classes that build your skills
  • Work-study that combines employment and skill building
  • 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.

What happens after I get a job?

First, congratulations! Because your income may mean you’re no longer eligible for the same benefits, talk with our staff to learn how your earnings impact your aid.

If you are still eligible, you can remain on SonomaWORKS and continue with welfare-to-work activities. Your job will be your main activity.

If you earn over the amount for eligibility, ask our staff about the additional services available.

What if I get a job and earn too much money to stay on SonomaWORKS?

That’s great! To help you transition to your new situation, you may be eligible for the following services for up to 12 months after your aid ends:

  • Job retention support
  • Transportation expenses
  • Employment expenses – books, fees, tools, special clothing, etc.
  • Case management services – job planning and counseling
  • Referrals to other helpful community services
  • For up to 24 months, you may be eligible for child care services after you leave SonomaWORKS.

Use our I pays to work calculator to see how your income might impact your aid.

What other supportive services can I get while on SonomaWORKS?

These services help you find and keep a job. Before supportive services are provided, they must be approved by your specialist or counselor:

  • Child care (payment to a child care provider)
  • 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 helpful local services
  • Services to help you keep your job

Why is working better than aid?

By working, you build a better future for you and your family. 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 an even better job
  • Develop your self-esteem