Gov. George Deukmejian and the California Legislature have agreed on major new programs to help welfare families and to improve child-care services. They represent constructive compromises that will affect the lives of millions of Californians. There is cause for celebration.
The most ambitious program will establish a workfare alternative for persons on welfare. The program was promoted by the governor and crafted by Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco) and Health and Welfare Secretary David Swoap. It requires able-bodied welfare recipients to attend school or enroll in job training. But it avoids the negative elements of past workfare proposals that often seemed designed to punish the poor rather than help them escape their poverty. Furthermore, the new program is voluntary for single-parent families with children under 6. And the bill makes the availability of adequate child care a pre-condition for implementing the program, backing this with funds to help county welfare departments provide supplementary child care with the guidance of the counties’ existing professional referral services.
In addition to workfare and the expanded child-care program, the legislation launches California on a program for latchkey children. The new after-school programs will be run, as they should be, by the state Department of Education, assuring a program not merely custodial but including an appropriate educational component.
Almost as a footnote to the two new programs, but also of importance, the Legislature passed a related bill by state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) that encourages businesses to share operation of child-care centers by allowing them to share the tax break for them. The bill, initiated by Board of Equalization member Conway Collis, is backed by organizations like United Way.
There remain misgivings about the workfare program--misgivings that can be allayed only by a judicious administration of the program. State and local officials will have to work especially hard to allay fears that the job-development portion of the bill is inadequate. County officials must act with sensitivity and compassion in determining eligibility.
In the first years of his term, the governor had chosen to veto many legislative initiatives addressing child-care issues. His advocacy of workfare changed the political climate, creating an opportunity for constructive negotiation between the Republican governor and the Democratic-led Legislature.
A number of people have contributed to the positive results. Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti (D-Los Angeles) insisted on expanded provisions for child care in the workfare program to minimize the danger that welfare parents would find themselves competing with middle-class parents for child-care services that are already in short supply. Key Republicans, including Sen. James W. Nielsen of Woodland, supported the child-care increases. Persistent child-care advocates from around the state kept up the pressure, and Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction, was directly involved in the final, fruitful negotiations.
The workfare and child-care legislation recognizes the world as it has come to be. There are many impoverished people who do not know how to become productive workers. This plan can help some of them to employment. Many women have now joined the work force, either to provide or supplement family income, creating an expanded demand for child care. And working parents, male and female, need the assurance that their children will have adequate supervision after school hours.