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U.S. Law Calls for 40% More in California to Join Workfare

Times Staff Writer

Federal legislation overhauling the nation’s welfare system will require an additional 71,000 welfare parents with children as young as 3 years old to participate in California’s workfare program, state officials said Tuesday.

The bipartisan bill, which President Reagan plans to sign Thursday, will mean a 40% expansion of California’s 2-year-old, modestly successful workfare program. It also will set increasingly tough quotas that the state must meet in putting welfare recipients to work, enrolling them in job training and sending them to school.

At the same time, the landmark legislation will give California as much as $100 million annually to help finance the program--more than offsetting the burdens imposed by restructuring the welfare system, state officials said.

“It seems to me that federal welfare reform is going to be good for California, certainly in a financial sense,” said Dennis Boyle, a state Department of Social Services deputy director who oversees the workfare program.

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Known officially as Greater Avenues for Independence, the workfare program so far has helped take at least 10,000 aid recipients off the welfare rolls and place them in permanent jobs, Boyle said.

Although Congress designed the federal legislation to be compatible with the California program, state and federal officials agree that the new law may lead to significant changes in the way GAIN operates.

For example, the state will be required to provide child care and medical benefits to aid recipients for a full year after they find work. Under the system now, California pays for child care services for three months and Medi-Cal benefits for four months after a workfare participant gets a job.

Another provision, which was included in the bill at the insistence of the Reagan Administration, could force some welfare recipients to drop out of training programs in order to fulfill a requirement that they perform community service work for 16 hours a week.

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“Although we don’t have a perfect match-up, I think it’s favorable that the federal government is getting involved in this area,” said Thomas E. Warriner, state Health and Welfare undersecretary. “Our program is intended to train and educate people and then put them in jobs. We think we have the best one in the country.”

The federal legislation, approved easily by both houses of Congress, is the culmination of years of debate over how to reduce welfare dependency and help recipients join the work force.

Under a 1981 Reagan Administration policy allowing states to experiment with work programs for welfare recipients, a wide variety of approaches--ranging from mandatory work assignments for welfare recipients to voluntary training programs--have sprung up around the nation.

Complex State Program

California’s workfare program, itself the result of a bipartisan legislative compromise in 1985, is the most complex attempt anywhere in the country and was one of several models used by the drafters of the federal legislation.

Under GAIN, able-bodied welfare recipients with children over the age of 6 must perform community service work, receive job training or go to school in exchange for their welfare checks. The state pays the cost of child care for participants in the program and covers their transportation costs to and from their work or training assignments.

The welfare recipients--who primarily are women--are generally allowed to choose the kind of work or training program they will enter. In some cases, they can spend years in school taking remedial education or attending community college classes to prepare for permanent jobs.

There are now 550,000 California households receiving Aid to Families With Dependent Children. The heads of 181,000 of those families meet the eligibility standards for GAIN and are required to enroll in the program.

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By including parents with children over the age of 3, the federal legislation will require the participation of 71,000 more welfare parents, bringing the total to 252,000 welfare families affected by the program.

Option Offered

The federal legislation also will give states the option of requiring the participation of welfare parents who have children over the age of 1 year old. But Boyle said the state is unlikely to extend the program to parents of children that young.

Under state law, every county in California was required to begin operating the GAIN program by last month. However, five of the 58 counties did not meet the deadline, including Los Angeles--the county with about 40% of the state’s welfare population.

It is difficult to gauge the success of GAIN because many counties that have begun operating the program have not provided complete data to the state. So far, at least 116,000 aid recipients in California have registered for the program, Boyle said, but it is unclear how many actually have begun work or training programs. Boyle also said a spot survey indicates that substantially more workfare participants have gotten jobs than the 10,000 reported by the counties.

Boyle and other state officials were particularly pleased by the provision in the federal legislation that will provide as much as $100 million to the state for its workfare program. After subtracting the cost of expanding the program to comply with the new federal rules, state officials estimate that California will end up with an additional $20 million to $30 million to run the GAIN program.

This is especially important because workfare is costing more than the state initially expected. Because the education level of the welfare population is lower than state officials had anticipated, many welfare recipients have remained in remedial education programs longer than predicted, driving up the cost of the program.

Budget Problems

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Faced with a growing budget crunch, the Deukmejian Administration announced earlier this year that it would have to scale back its plans for the program, cutting by one-fourth the number of welfare recipients required to participate.

It is unclear, however, whether the influx of federal money will be sufficient to pay for the cost of complying with the participation quotas that the federal legislation will impose by the mid-1990s.

The quotas are so high in some cases that they may be difficult to meet simply because of the problem of processing so many people through the complex array of educational and training elements in the program, state officials said.

For example, starting in 1997, the federal legislation will require that 75% of those on Aid to Families With Dependent Children for the Unemployed participate in the GAIN program.

“It’s a high participation level. It will be very difficult to meet,” said Kathy Lewis, a branch chief in the Social Services Department.

Financial Safety Valve

At this point, state officials are counting on relief from another provision in the federal legislation that says the states can seek approval from the federal government to limit the scope of their programs if they do not have sufficient money.

Reagan support for the federal welfare bill is an outgrowth of his longstanding desire to put welfare recipients to work.

In 1972, then-Gov. Reagan began a workfare program in California that required aid recipients to perform community service in exchange for their grants. As President in 1986, he claimed that the program “worked like gang-busters” and had put 76,000 people into “private enterprise jobs.”

State records show, however, that it never got off the ground. Only 8,000 people ever took part in Reagan’s workfare program and there is no record of how many got paying jobs as a result.


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