Wanted: Workfare Without Red Tape

Times Staff Writer

There’s one thing the director of Orange County’s Social Services Agency knows he does not want from the new state-funded, county-operated “workfare” program to find jobs or job-training courses for welfare recipients: lots of red tape.

“We don’t want to get buried in paper work,” Larry M. Leaman said.

Orange County already has its own workfare program for recipients of general relief, all of whom have no children and many of whom are single. A separate federal program tries to find jobs or training for the jobless, most of whom are not welfare clients.

But those most likely to be affected by the new state program to lift people out of poverty are mothers of children older than 6. They will be required to find jobs, complete their education or enter training courses. If they don’t, they will lose their welfare benefits.


Flexibility for Counties

So far, Leaman said, the program signed into law last Thursday by Gov. George Deukmejian gets high marks for giving each county flexibility in deciding how to carry out the state program.

Orange County, with a low unemployment rate, will have a program differing from Imperial County, where the unemployment rate is about 40% and whose county welfare director remarked to Leaman, “Train people for what jobs?”

The county has two years to draw up a plan to implement the workfare program, which is officially known as Greater Avenues for Independence (Gain). The state has a year to review the plan, then the county has another two years to start it.

“It will require a massive planning effort to develop a plan for the County of Orange,” said Leaman, who hopes to have everything working in the summer of 1987.

While welfare mothers are likely to be most affected by the new program, another group that will be involved is the county’s eligibility workers--the men and women who currently determine which welfare applicants are entitled to what benefits.

‘Combination Model’

“We’re going to be moving more into a combination eligibility-social work model, which used to be the case 10 or 15 years ago,” Leaman said.

One question raised by the program is whether eligibility workers will be trained to double as social workers, counseling welfare recipients on available training and jobs, or whether there will be separate eligibility workers and social workers for the welfare client.

The county currently dispenses payments to some 60,000 recipients a month, most of whom receive federal funds from the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. The majority of the recipients are children, but perhaps 35% of those are adults, Leaman said, and “many of those may not be able-bodied,” and thus will not be required to work or study in order to keep their benefits.

One factor determining how long it takes for the county to set up its Gain program is “how many hoops we have to jump through to satisfy the needs of the state and insure public participation,” Leaman said.

The county’s Private Industry Council, a key player in administering federal job-training funds from the Joint Training Partnership Act program--successor to the much-maligned Comprehensive Employment Training Act program--could play a major role as a provider of jobs or training.

The council, composed of 24 members from business, labor and academic institutions in Orange County, was briefed on the new program last week.

Council Chairman Bob Kuznik, president of an Anaheim municipal solid-wastes disposal firm, said that so far everyone affected by the new legislation has only “a real cursory understanding of what the programs are going to be and how they will work.”

The training and employment programs are intended to “eventually save the State of California a great deal of money and will assist people in getting onto the employment rolls in the private sector,” Kuznik said.

Since the job-training act program began in 1983, it has served 3,665 adults and 5,092 youths, Jane O’Grady, the administrator of the program, said, adding that a separate summer-job program found work for 6,000 youths. O’Grady said that about 18% of the adults and 25% of the youths in the program receive welfare payments, but that men and women not eligible for welfare can take part in the job training act program.

“We see (the new state program) as an opportunity to take the workfare effort and combine it with our job training and placement effort,” O’Grady said.

The job-training act program tries to find people jobs or get them training in such fields as clerical work, electronic assembly jobs and machine trades, she said. The federal program provides care for the children of its clients, which will be a big item in the state Gain program.

The Private Industry Council intends to set up a task force to help in planning for Gain to avoid duplicating programs and to see if there are federal programs applicable to the welfare mothers.

A separate workfare program in effect in the county since 1980 requires recipients of general relief to work and repay the county, or to search for a job.

Marna Hightower, coordinator of the county-funded program, said there are about 115 people in the program. Most general relief recipients are disabled and unable to work, she said.

“The average length of time our client is in the work program is four or five weeks,” Hightower said. “By that time the client has either not cooperated with our requirements to work off his aid or to job search or he has found a job.”

Most of the work is in county parks, on groundskeeping crews; clerical jobs or helping out at senior-citizen centers. Some of this work might be available to welfare mothers enrolled in the new state program, Hightower said.

It is “not a make-work program,” she said. “Every person who works on a work site in Orange County works side by side with a public employee doing the same thing. They’re working at a lower level of expertise, of course, but you’re not talking about slave labor (and) you’re not talking about someone polishing the same piece of brass all day.”