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County Faces Workfare Program Showdown

From a Times staff writer

Los Angeles County Supervisors provoked a showdown Tuesday with the state, insisting that an inexperienced private corporation run a new $7.9-million workfare program, despite opposition from the Deukmejian Administration.

Attorneys for both sides are scheduled to meet Thursday. Already delinquent in meeting a Sept. 26 deadline, the county risks losing millions of dollars in federal welfare funds if no program is in place by Nov. 1.

As a stopgap, board members voted to let the county run the Greater Avenues for Independence program if the state irrevocably refuses to go along with the private plan.

The conflict is between a 3-year-old state law, which requires counties to operate work training programs for welfare recipients, and a county ordinance, which encourages government agencies to use private firms for such training as well as other functions.

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The county put the GAIN program out to bid. The lowest competitor was the Virginia firm of Maximus Inc., a management consulting and public relations company that has never had a large welfare program.

If Maximus stays within its bid estimates, it would cost $500,000 less the first year to run the program than the county figured its own costs would be. All of the money is provided by the federal and state governments.

State health and welfare officials, labor union representatives and other critics of the Maximus contract have argued that privacy and other laws preclude private corporations from taking on projects that can involve decisions such as eligibility for benefits or fitness for employment.

But Supervisor Pete Schabarum, champion of the plan, cited cost savings to county taxpayers among the key reasons to proceed.

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With the ailing Supervisor Kenneth Hahn absent from the board meeting, the vote was 3 to 1 to approve the Maximus contract. Supervisor Ed Edelman cast the dissenting vote. Schabarum opposed Edelman’s motion to provide a backup county-run program.


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