SACRAMENTO — It has been defeated or shelved numerous times, but the Deukmejian Administration on Thursday made its strongest pitch yet for a statewide program that would require able-bodied welfare parents to work for their benefits.
In a rare message to the Legislature, Gov. George Deukmejian described his latest welfare proposal, introduced by two Republicans, as "a compassionate, service-oriented employment program" that "can save taxpayers money while providing more hope and opportunity for the disadvantaged."
The GOP governor also called on lawmakers to "set aside the rancorous debate over the failed efforts of the past and put into place a fair, reasonable and humane process through which capable welfare applicants and recipients can avoid the indignity of welfare dependency."
Like earlier versions, the proposal, which had some bipartisan support, was fashioned after an experimental workfare project in San Diego County.
Administration officials have redesigned it, however, and its authors, Senate Republican Leader James W. Nielsen of Woodland and Assemblyman Ernest L. Konnyu (R-Saratoga), gave it a new acronym--STEP-UP (State Training Employment Program for Unemployed Persons)--in hopes that people will forget the workfare title tied to the previous unsuccessful efforts.
Deukmejian early on set welfare reform as one of his top priorities. While a number of his proposals have become law, his attempts to enact a mandatory work program for recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children have fizzled.
Democrats, who control the Legislature, have been cool toward any kind of mandatory work program, and organized labor has fought workfare out of fear that it would create a low-paid labor pool that would displace existing workers.
Health and Welfare Agency Secretary David B. Swoap said he is convinced that lawmakers are ready to tackle the issue this session as the result of "careful and quiet negotiations and conversations" between the Administration and legislative leaders.
No fewer than 11 welfare measures have been introduced this session.
Administration sources said a key factor this year is Deukmejian's willingness to make the welfare plan "an exceedingly high priority." But a spokesman for the governor said "it is too early to tell just how far the governor will go in actively lobbying the case on welfare."
The Administration's proposal would require all eligible welfare recipients (estimated at about one-third of the state's 286,000 AFDC recipients) to attend job-training workshops while continuing to search for work.
Those unable to find jobs would get temporary public service positions or vocational training. Unlike the San Diego experiment, those who still end up without work would be placed back in the system for more training rather than allowed to end their job searches.
Recipients with children under six years of age would be exempt and the state would provide child care and transportation services for those who need it.
Officials estimated that the program would take three years to implement and eventually save taxpayers $113 million annually by lowering the number of people on welfare.
It is almost identical to a measure introduced in December by Democratic Sens. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove and Bill Greene of Los Angeles. On Wednesday, Garamendi said he "welcomed the involvement of the governor" and indicated he may support his effort.
However, Assemblyman Tom Bates (D-Oakland), chairman of the Assembly Human Services Committee who has tangled with Deukmejian in the past over workfare, assailed the governor's newest plan as "nothing more than a warmed-over failed program."