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County Welfare Reform Efforts Criticized

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A coalition of advocates for the poor charged Wednesday that Los Angeles County officials are doing a poor job of providing critical information welfare recipients need to get off the dole and find jobs.

The group said the results of a survey of more than 500 recipients at nearly a dozen welfare offices found that many were unaware of a five-year lifetime limit on receiving aid and were not being offered support services that are supposed to be a major feature of welfare reform efforts.

“Our goal is to provide the Board of Supervisors with an early warning about how changes in public assistance are really working for people so they can order critical adjustments before lives are ruined,” said Michelle Broadnax, co-chairwoman of the Welfare Reform Coalition, which represents several advocacy groups.

The group staged a demonstration at the Hall of Administration attended by more than 200 welfare recipients to release a “report card” on the first 90 days of the county’s implementation of CalWORKS, the statewide welfare reform program.

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The group gave county welfare officials poor grades for their level of knowledge of new welfare rules, for failing to provide sufficient information about drug abuse, mental health, domestic violence, child care and transportation services, and for incomplete translation of new requirements into languages other than English and Spanish.

“The county said that this program was going to be different, that we were going to get information and be treated with respect, but I haven’t seen it,” said Reyna Gomez, a mother of three who spoke at the demonstration. “It is time for the county to take responsibility for the information they are handing out.”

County officials countered that significant efforts have been made to get news about welfare changes to recipients, including mass mailings in several languages. The county Department of Public Social Services conducted its own survey, also released Wednesday, of 1,000 welfare recipients and found that “excellent progress has been made toward meeting welfare-to-work goals, although much needs to be done.”

The county progress report found that from May 1997 to May 1998, the number of people on aid dropped by almost 100,000, to about 715,000, and cash benefits dropped by more than 20%. The report said that since April 1, local welfare offices had conducted CalWORKS presentations for more than 77,000 people.

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In addition, recipients report that welfare offices are much more “user-friendly,” officials said.

“It’s difficult for us to evaluate why the [Welfare Coalition] information may have come out differently than ours,” said Sandra Semtner, chief of special projects for DPSS. “But we are pretty comfortable with our survey.”


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