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Welfare Eligibility Worker ‘Helps People Get Settled’

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When Khanh Ha immigrated to the United States from Vietnam 12 years ago, she already spoke some English and, eventually, she was able to find a job as a receptionist.

She took classes to improve her English and began working as a dental assistant. But she remembered what it was like to arrive in a strange country, with only a few relatives to help her adjust.

“I started doing everything I could to help Vietnamese refugees,” said Ha, 42. A friend suggested that she apply for a job as a welfare eligibility worker with the Orange County Social Services Agency. “I applied, passed the test and got the job. It’s a good job. I help people get settled.”

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As an eligibility worker, Ha interviews applicants who apply for assistance. She goes over the paperwork with them and makes sure they understand which documents are required to complete the application. After verifying the information, she determines the programs for which they are eligible, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, Medi-Cal benefits and refugee assistance.

“Sometimes I get as many as five new cases per day,” Ha said. “There is a lot of checking to do, to make sure the information is correct and that the applicants comply with all the rules.”

Occasionally Ha must inform applicants that they are not eligible for benefits. “That’s the hard part,” she said. “All I can do is make sure they understand the process. The important thing is to treat them fairly.”

OCCUPATION: Welfare eligibility worker

* What’s involved: Welfare eligibility workers interview those applying for food stamps, medical benefits and other forms of assistance from the county’s Social Services Agency. They explain the application process and the need for any additional documentation that may be required. After verifying information from the applicant, the eligibility worker determines which forms of assistance the applicant is eligible to receive.

* Qualifications: Minimum qualifications include the completion of 30 units of college-level work in a human services or social science field; or two years of office services experience with a background in financial record keeping or interviewing; or the completion of a county-approved training program. Other necessary skills include the ability to gather, record and evaluate data; organize, prioritize and process large volumes of paperwork, and perform arithmetic computations. Bilingual ability, particularly Spanish or Vietnamese, is helpful.

* Prospects: One of the 10 fastest-growing job fields in Orange County.

* Outlook: By 1998, the number of welfare eligibility workers is projected to increase by 14.4% to 1,590 positions.

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* Salary range: $1,810 to $2,399 per month. Those assigned to bilingual caseloads receive an additional 60 cents per hour.

* Pros: Welfare eligibility workers report strong satisfaction from helping others.

* Cons: The eligibility worker is the main point of contact with applicants who are frustrated by their living conditions or from dealing with numerous assistance agencies. They often encounter individuals who are angry or have lost hope in improving their situations.

* Advancement: Experienced welfare eligibility workers may become unit supervisors and advance further into administrative levels.

* Quote: “I would encourage anyone who is bilingual to apply, since their skills are very badly needed here.”--Khanh Ha, eligibility worker, Orange County Social Services Agency

Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times

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