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Job Training Program Gets $4-Million Bonus : Social services: The timely increase in state funding means that about 2,500 more of the county's burgeoning welfare population will have access to the Greater Avenues to Independence program.

September 17, 1993|DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — With welfare rolls soaring to a record high in Orange County, the state has released an additional $4 million to fund a job training program that seeks to move welfare recipients to private-sector payrolls.

The extra funding means that about 2,500 additional positions will be opened for welfare recipients to enroll in the county's Greater Avenues to Independence (GAIN) program, which provides remedial education, job training, counseling and other workplace skills. Last year, about 3,700 people a month participated in the county job training program.

The additional money for Orange County results from a $41-million increase in the state's budget for such programs. Statewide, officials said, the increased spending will provide training for an additional 47,000 people.

The local GAIN budget's increase to $11.9 million comes at a time when the most recent state report on Aid to Families with Dependent Children revealed that the county's welfare rolls have bulged to 111,927 people, a 15% increase over the number benefiting from such payments in July, 1992. Statewide, the welfare rolls increased 6.4% over the same period.

The number of Orange County residents receiving AFDC benefits has steadily increased since July, 1987, when AFDC recipients totaled about 59,000, said Angelo Doti, director of financial assistance for Orange County's Social Services Agency.

"It's never dipped since then, and every month is a record month," Doti said, noting that the number of local AFDC recipients is relatively small compared to counties with similar populations.

Robert A. Griffith, the agency's chief deputy director, said the rapidly rising welfare rates can be attributed to rising unemployment locally and to the changing demographics of Orange County. More low-income people are moving into the county, and an increasing number of AFDC beneficiaries are U.S.-citizen children of illegal immigrants, Griffith said.

"Parents who are undocumented immigrants are finding it increasingly difficult to find jobs anywhere," Griffith said. "And as they get more desperate, they are more likely to turn to AFDC. The incomes they get from AFDC become the financial foundation the family survives on."

The illegal-immigrant parents of U.S.-citizen children do not qualify for assistance under the GAIN program.

County social services officials said they are hoping to use the new GAIN funds to reverse the rising welfare rates. Programs like GAIN, they said, are a start, because they encourage AFDC recipients, especially single parents, to take the first steps toward becoming self-sufficient.

Dianne M. Edwards, the program's director of adult and employment services, said she is preparing to hire about 20 new staff members to handle an anticipated flood of new GAIN registrants.

"This program is going to give many more people a chance to break the cycle of dependency," Edwards said. "Many people don't want to be dependent on welfare; they want a chance to prove themselves, and this program provides such an opportunity."

A total of 1,318 participants in the GAIN program found jobs during a one-year period ending in June, representing an 84% increase over the previous year. More than half of those--755--found full-time jobs, a 152% increase.

GAIN graduates typically get jobs as clerical and production workers, mechanics, hairdressers and computer technicians, earning hourly wages of $4.25 to $19.

One of the program's success stories is Geniece Dewalt, who was an unemployed Westminster mother of two on AFDC--the typical GAIN participant--when she enrolled in the program three years ago.

Dewalt had started her own business, a cleaning service, after separating from her husband several years ago. But when the economy went sour, the business faltered, and she was forced to visit the welfare office to seek support for her two young daughters.

"I remember walking into the welfare office and seeing these people with young babies," Dewalt said. "I thought to myself, 'My God, what am I doing here?' Tears welled up in my eyes. It took every ounce of effort to go back, but I knew I had to do it for my children and myself."

Dewalt said she was determined to get off welfare. After receiving a high school diploma, she enrolled in the nursing program at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.

During her studies, she managed to survive on $628 in monthly AFDC payments, only because GAIN covered her child care and transportation costs.

"Getting through every day was a challenge," Dewalt said. "But at the end of it, I felt blessed."

A few months ago, Dewalt graduated from Golden West College. Last month, she moved to Spring Valley in San Diego County to take a $36,000-a-year job in a skilled nursing facility. She now rents a spacious four-bedroom home. The cramped one-bedroom apartment in Westminster that she shared with her two daughters is a distant memory.

"Some nights I go home after work and I look out at the city lights and I say, 'Geniece, you've done it,' " she said. "Now I can raise my children and contribute to society. The system works if you work with it."

Additional GAIN

The state is contributing an additional $4 million to Orange County's GAIN program this year to enable 2,500 more welfare recipients to participate in job training, counseling and remedial education. Total funding 1991-92: $7,759,178 1992-93: $7,834,812 1993-94: $11,949,085 *

More Participation, Jobs

The number of participants in the program has increased 18% in the past three years, while the number that obtained full- or part-time jobs jumped 137% in the same period.

Avg. monthly participants Number employed 1990-91 3,209 556 1991-92 3,327 718 1992-93 3,793 1,318

Source: Orange County Social Services Agency

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