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'Workfare' for Parents of 3-Year-Olds Approved

June 29, 1989|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Able-bodied welfare parents with children as young as 3 would be required to participate in the state's work program for welfare recipients under legislation passed Wednesday by the Assembly and sent to Gov. George Deukmejian.

In addition, the bill would require welfare parents ages 18 and 19 to go back to school to get high school diplomas after their children turn 3 months old.

Approved by a vote of 65 to 0, the measure is designed to conform the state's "workfare" program to a federal law passed last year overhauling the nation's welfare system and requiring all states to create work programs for welfare recipients.

A spokesman for Deukmejian said the governor is expected to sign the bill by Friday to qualify the state for an additional $46 million in federal funds to operate the program.

The new federal requirements would mean that California, which already has the most complex workfare system in the nation, would add about 40,000 welfare recipients to the 150,000 now eligible to participate.

Known formally as Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN), California's workfare program requires welfare recipients to work, go to school or receive job training in exchange for their checks.

The federal law was modeled, in part, on the California program. But it also makes several key changes that require modifications in GAIN by October, 1990.

Until now, for example, only able-bodied welfare parents with children older than 6 have been required to participate in the California program.

The state's original decision to set the age threshold at 6 was part of a compromise between Democrats, who opposed the concept of a mandatory work program, and Republican Gov. Deukmejian, who wanted to require the participation of welfare parents with children as young as 3.

With enactment of the federal law, Democrats quickly agreed to reduce the age threshold to 3 to receive the additional federal funds.

"They dangled the money in front of us," said Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) after the Senate approved the bill Tuesday by a vote of 28 to 1.

Under the state and federal legislation, welfare parents with children 3 to 5 years old would be required to take part in GAIN only if child-care services--paid for by the government--are available. In addition, these aid recipients would be required to participate only 20 hours a week.

The provision requiring 18- and 19-year-old welfare parents to go back to school was designed to keep them from becoming dependent on welfare at an early age. For the most part, these aid recipients are women who dropped out of high school and have very young children.

Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Union City), author of the bill, noted that more than 60% of all welfare recipients are functionally illiterate and that 60% are teen-age mothers.

"It would be a real advantage if we got those kids to finish their high school education," Eastin said. "Most of us feel that teen parents are the ones who have the best chance to be trained and get into the workplace."

One of the changes required by the federal law will make it easier for welfare recipients to make the transition from aid to employment.

At present, workfare participants who get jobs are entitled to receive an additional three months of child care and four months of Medi-Cal after they stop receiving aid. Under the bill approved Wednesday, welfare parents who go to work will receive child-care assistance and Medi-Cal for 12 months.

So far, GAIN has met with modest success. It is now operating in all 58 counties and as of February, 127,000 welfare recipients had signed up. Of these, 38,000 have found jobs, including 11,000 who are making enough money to move off the welfare rolls.

At the same time, however, program operators have found that far more welfare recipients than expected need basic education before they can work or receive job training. In addition, the participation rate of the welfare recipients who have registered for GAIN has only been 34%--in part because many are already working part-time in an attempt to become self-supporting.

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