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Good News on Welfare Reform

There has been a welcome change at the Anaheim welfare office: The crowds have gotten smaller.

For a variety of reasons, the number of welfare applicants has been decreasing, in Orange County and across the state. That’s a trend worth celebrating.

In July 1994, the number of new applicants for welfare in Orange County hit its peak--3,300. In July 1997, the number was only 1,100. That has led to a noticeable reduction in crowds at the cavernous Anaheim Regional Center, one of four welfare offices in the county.

Social workers say the strong economy has helped reduce the welfare rolls because there are more jobs available. They also say that new rules make it harder to cheat by collecting welfare while holding down a job on the side. Now welfare recipients have to show they are training for jobs or looking for work. That takes time that otherwise would have gone to working. So the former recipients keep the job and skip the welfare.

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Studies done in Chicago and elsewhere have shown that welfare cheaters usually were single mothers whose jobs produced relatively little income and provided little security.

The welfare reform demanded by Congress two years ago also limits the period in which people can receive welfare benefits to five years in a lifetime. Social workers say a number of people appear to be saving the welfare applications for a time when they really need it; for now they’re better off grabbing a job while it’s available.

Orange County began planning on how to cope with welfare reform as soon as Congress made its intentions clear, though it took time for the state to decide how to implement the changes. The county has opened resource rooms to help welfare recipients with job searches. Access to the Internet is offered; so is equipment to write and print resumes.

Taxpayers benefit when the welfare rolls dip, as do the recipients of public assistance. There’s more satisfaction gained from a job than a handout. But welfare reform must proceed with caution. The easiest to remove from the rolls will be gone first. For the lesser-educated or the mentally ill, the transition will be harder. They will need help longer and should not be denied the safety net that welfare provides.

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