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Welfare Reform That Works

April 21, 1993

California's workfare program, Greater Avenues for Independence, takes time and costs money. But it works. That's what counts as this state and the nation debate welfare reform.

GAIN gets poor parents off welfare and into the work force, according to the results from an exhaustive study conducted by the Manpower Development Research Corp. The proof is in the paychecks.

The study, based on the experiences of 33,000 welfare recipients in six counties, found that poor parents earned 24% more than their counterparts in a control group. The best progress was tabulated in Riverside County. That program successfully emphasized finding a job as quickly as possible. Those participants earned 53% more than the control group.

Riverside County should become a statewide model, as Gov. Wilson has suggested. A strong advocate of welfare reform, Wilson is expected this week to ask the California Legislature to consider expanding GAIN and reshaping it to mirror Riverside County's successful emphasis on work and job searches.

An expansion is certainly in order given the encouraging results. However, California's fiscal challenges have required an incremental approach to welfare reform. GAIN currently costs nearly $250 million and serves 125,000 welfare recipients. That represents 42% of those who are eligible. But even that limited coverage, as the Manpower study proves, is paying off.

Although earnings rarely translated into full-time salaries, the successes allowed GAIN to achieve a more than 20% improvement over the amount of welfare savings racked up in the first year. While those savings did not offset the expense of GAIN, the trend could portend big savings for the state if someday GAIN can be expanded.

Single mothers with school-age children fared best. Their successes offer hope for the nation since poor mothers represent the majority of welfare recipients.

GAIN, like most state workfare programs, combines obligation and opportunity. It is mandatory, as it should be to encourage change. It provides job training, basic education classes, child care, transportation and other support services. That's expensive, although the federal government bears half the costs.

Welfare reform costs a lot. Welfare dependency costs much more. Let GAIN work.

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