A preliminary report on San Diego County's experimental "workfare" program will provide powerful ammunition during the current legislative session, the concept's backers said Tuesday.
Despite mixed and somewhat inconclusive findings, "we like the way the thing came out," said Vaughn Jeffery, executive assistant and legislative analyst for the county Social Services Department.
The report by a New York-based consulting firm, released this week, says most welfare recipients feel that the program's mandatory job-seeking and work requirements are fair. It also concludes that the 2 1/2-year-old experiment has been cost-effective, increasing recipients' earnings while reducing welfare costs.
But Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, said the report "raises a lot more questions than answers." While Watson opposes the mandatory work requirement and the automatic loss of benefits for those who do not work for them, she predicted that some welfare reform package will pass the Legislature this year.
Four rival bills on the subject are already in the Senate committee hopper and three others are in the Assembly.
The consultant's report was based on the experiences of 7,000 people who applied for welfare benefits in San Diego County during 1982 and 1983. The study was commissioned by the federal government and funded in part by a Ford Foundation grant.
Last year, efforts to expand the workfare program statewide failed, and San Diego's experimental program barely won an 11th-hour, one-year extension. The workfare experiment will end July 1 unless the Legislature again extends it.
So far, seven bills that would extend, expand, copy or alter San Diego's workfare program have been introduced, and at least two other proposals are expected, said Jeffery.
Backers say the generally favorable report by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. should help those who favor the workfare concept under which recipients must work to qualify for benefits.
"I introduced a workfare bill last session that went nowhere," said Assemblyman Gary Condit (D-Ceres), who has introduced a bill that would create workfare programs in Stanislaus and Merced counties. "I think this year there is going to be a different outcome."
"We think the San Diego study strongly supports our approach," added Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), whose bill would create a statewide program similar to San Diego's.
Garamendi said his bill is based on the San Diego program but is "an expanded, more sophisticated model."
Assemblywoman Lucy Killea (D-San Diego) said she expects to introduce another bill soon that would extend the San Diego program for two years, while extending its provisions to all counties, or groups of them, on a voluntary basis.
"This would give us a test period of a year or two," Killea said.
While San Diego County officials want, at the very least, to continue their pilot program, the county so far has not endorsed any of the proposals.
"There is no doubt that we are going to take a strong position on the ones we like and comment on the ones we don't," said Jeffery, who is studying the legislative proposals and preparing a report for the Board of Supervisors.
"We feel this report says that our program is worthy of consideration . . . It suggests that the program works with people rather than against them."