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County Fails to Gain Control Over Welfare

Ventura County has failed to win an exemption from a federal welfare reform bill that would turn control and funding of social service programs over to state governments, officials said Tuesday.

“I am disappointed,” said Supervisor Frank Schillo, who along with Supervisor John Flynn had pushed for the exemption. “But at the same time, with politics the way it is in Washington, I knew that it could be off the table.”

The county had sought an amendment in the welfare reform bill that would have allowed counties with more than 500,000 people to receive welfare grant money directly from the federal government. It would have also allowed those counties to negotiate directly with the secretary of health and human services to develop their own welfare reform programs.

The provision had won approval in the U.S. Senate. But it was recently kicked out of final welfare reform bill by a joint House-Senate committee after intense lobbying from the National Governors Conference, said Roger Honberger, the county’s Washington lobbyist.

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“They had more muscle,” Honberger said. “A small county can’t stand up to the nation’s governors. The battle lines had been drawn. And they wanted the control to stay with them.”

President Clinton has threatened to veto the current bill, Honberger said. If so, he said, it’s possible that the issue could be brought up again.

Meanwhile, Schillo said that he and Flynn will work with state officials to get approval for the county to establish its own welfare reform programs as part of a demonstration project. He said they believe that if the county can maintain flexibility in its programs that it can get more welfare recipients back to work and save more tax dollars in the long run.

The number of county residents currently receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children is about 29,800, and the number collecting food stamps is about 40,700, said James Isom, director of the county’s Public Social Services Agency.

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