Governor's Budget Would Scale Back Workfare Plan

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian's proposed budget would scale back plans for the state's new workfare program, cutting by one-fourth the number of welfare recipients expected to participate in job training and work activities next fiscal year.

Facing a constitutional limit on state spending and a welfare population that needs far more remedial education than originally expected, Deukmejian has proposed a budget that would substantially increase spending on workfare but still would fall more than $100 million short of the amount required to fully operate the program in every county.

The decision not to provide full funding for workfare would most directly affect counties that have not implemented the program, including Los Angeles County, which has 40% of the state's welfare population.

State officials insisted that Deukmejian's workfare proposal--included in his 1988-89 budget submitted to the Legislature last week--does not represent a lessening of his commitment to the program, which is formally known as Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN). Deukmejian frequently touted the workfare program during his 1986 reelection campaign.

"I think GAIN is viewed by the governor as a very important welfare reform initiative," Dennis Boyle, a deputy director of social services who heads the program, said in an interview Monday. "He's fully committed and anxious to see it implemented throughout the state. We see it as a model program for the nation."

Under the workfare law, approved in a landmark 1985 compromise between Deukmejian and the Legislature, able-bodied aid recipients must attend school, undergo job training or work in public-service jobs in order to receive their welfare checks.

Counties have until September, 1988, to start the workfare program and until September, 1990, to have it fully operating. As of now, 26 of the state's 58 counties have begun the program.

Deukmejian's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would provide $408 million for Greater Avenues, nearly double this year's budget of $209 million. But state officials acknowledge that it would not be sufficient to pay for all the existing county programs plus the planned start-up of Greater Avenues in the remaining 32 counties.

Funds for 148,000

Deukmejian had originally called for more than 200,000 welfare recipients to take part in the program. But according to George Valverde, a budget analyst in the Department of Finance, the governor's proposed budget would provide enough funds for only 148,000 participants.

Those who are not required to participate would continue to receive their state aid.

The proposal to reduce the scope of the program comes as the state prepares to release a new study concluding that 67% of California's welfare recipients do not have the basic skills they need to find and keep a job.

The state had originally projected that only 15% to 20% of the state's welfare recipients would require remedial education. However, a standardized test administered to more than 32,000 welfare recipients showed that fully two-thirds of those on welfare were not able to read, write or add well enough to hold a job.

Like Previous Study

The findings are similar to a study last year that found that 57% of those applying for welfare did not have the basic skills needed for employment. But the latest study demonstrates that long-term aid recipients have even more serious educational impediments to getting off welfare.

As a result, both state and counties have had to tailor the workfare program to provide remedial education to many more welfare recipients than planned.

This has delayed job training and work assignments for thousands of welfare recipients, adding to the program's cost and contributing to the decision to reduce the number of people who would be routed through the program.

"We've got a substantial proportion of the GAIN budget devoted to providing educational services," Boyle said. "A direct result is there are fewer people who can be served by GAIN."

Limit on Spending

In addition, increasing the state's expenditures on workfare would be hampered by the constitutional spending limit. In order to substantially increase funds for Greater Avenues, the governor would have to cut back other state programs or dip into his closely guarded $1-billion reserve.

Under the state's budget plan, the 26 counties that have already started the workfare program would receive the money they need to continue fully operating. Los Angeles County, Orange County and other counties that have not started operations would face reductions in the amounts they have requested.

State officials said they do not yet know how much money would be available for Los Angeles County, which had sought $240 million for the coming fiscal year, or for Orange County, which wanted $15 million.

Another Look Needed

"Clearly, with $100 million less in state funding than everyone had hoped for, counties such as ours are going to have to take another look at our programs," said Sandy Semtner, chief of the Los Angeles County Greater Avenues planning division.

In the event the state cannot fully pay for the program, the law requires that the services provided to welfare recipients in the program will not be cut back. Instead, the number of welfare recipients required to participate in workfare will be reduced by excluding those who are most likely to find work on their own.

According to Boyle, those who would not be required to participate in the program in Los Angeles and other selected counties would include all new applicants for welfare and those recipients of Aid to Families for Dependent Children-Unemployed who have been on aid for less than a year.

In addition, welfare recipients who are not required to participate would no longer be permitted to volunteer for the program.

"We're not reducing services, we're focusing services on those who would get the most benefit," said budget analyst Valverde. "There will be some eligible recipients who will not participate."

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