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Job Losses Send More Families to Welfare Office : Recession: Bad weather and plant closures have contributed to a 40% rise in two-parent households seeking public aid.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The number of two-parent families in Ventura County requesting welfare assistance because one or both parents were out of work increased by almost 40% during a 12-month period ending in January, a reflection of a worsening economy, county officials said.

The cases of unemployed parents in two-parent households receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children funds rose from 606 cases in January, 1990, to 844 in January, 1991.

Single-parent families receiving AFDC funding increased by 7.4%, from 6,370 to 6,842, during the period.

Such welfare benefits are paid according to the number of children in a family. For example, a family with three children would get $694 a month. A family with five children would get $940 a month.

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“The primary reason is the downturn in the economy,” Helen Reburn, deputy director of the county’s Public Social Services Agency, said of the surge in unemployed parents in the county. “It’s the recession we have all felt.”

Because welfare applications are continuing to increase, Reburn said the county will need an extra $5.5 million over its $50-million AFDC budget for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The program is funded 50% by the federal government, 45% by the state and 5% by the county.

The county’s share of that increase would be about $290,000. The county had budgeted about $2.2 million for its share of the AFDC budget for this fiscal year.

While both the state and the county face deficits, federal law requires that money be provided for each eligible AFDC case.

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Among those added to the welfare rolls last year was Andrew Edwards, 25, who lives in Ventura with his girlfriend, their 4-month-old baby and two other children from a previous relationship.

Edwards, who does not have a high school diploma, said he has worked as a warehouse assistant, as an oil worker on an offshore oil platform and as a pipe-fitter for a local engineering company.

But no job has become permanent, usually because his employer has fallen on hard economic times, he said.

Edwards lost his latest job with an engineering company in November, the same month that his girlfriend gave birth.

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Finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet on his unemployment checks, Edwards decided last month to improve his chances in the job market by getting his high school diploma through the Public Social Services Agency’s employment-training program.

As a result, things may be looking up for Edwards. He expects to receive his high school diploma next month and said he recently has been contacted by a Camarillo company about a job.

Andrew Gonzales is also having difficulty finding a job after being laid off last year.

Gonzales, with a wife and three children at home, has been searching in vain for a new position since he was fired in October, after five years as a purchasing agent at a Moorpark food-manufacturing plant.

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Dismissed because of a dispute with a fellow employee, Gonzales said there seems to be no work for a 26-year-old without a high school diploma. He said he is not proud of having to accept welfare assistance.

“I don’t like using it,” he said. “It’s just that I have to.”

To qualify for AFDC funds, Gonzales, like Edwards, was required to participate in a county employment-training program that provides basic education classes. Gonzales said he is now only two months away from earning his high school diploma.

There is no typical family that receives AFDC benefits, said Maria Older, manager of the Public Social Services Agency office in Oxnard.

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Some families are middle or upper-middle class who have been forced to seek aid when “something happens and the floor falls out from under them,” Older said. In other cases, she said, the families can have a long history of relying on welfare programs to make ends meet.

The average AFDC family has two or three children, county statistics show. About half the families are Latino, while 42% are white. The remainder are black and Asian.

Reburn cited the drought, the recent freeze and the closure of several defense industry plants in the area--including Northrop Corp. and the Raytheon Co.--as having contributed to the increase in AFDC applications by unemployed parents.

The increase has been so dramatic that the Public Social Services Agency, which operates AFDC and other programs, was forced to appeal to the Board of Supervisors in December for more workers to process the applications for welfare benefits. The supervisors approved an additional six staff members but rejected the agency’s request for 19 workers.

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The agency has 243 caseworkers who investigate whether applicants are eligible for aid.


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