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IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD : Huntington Beach: Micro-Scale Welfare Reform

November 07, 1994

Single parents without job skills who have left a violent mate or lack spousal support have few economic options. Even full-time entry-level jobs pay wages that don't cover a family's rent, medical expenses, child care and food bills. Such parents risk becoming ensnared in long-term dependence on public support. This cycle has prompted a national call for welfare reform.

Project Self-Sufficiency, a city-based program in Huntington Beach, eases single parents off welfare by finding them housing, education and employment and helping them end their public assistance after no more than five years. It differs from other programs with similar goals by providing comprehensive, one-on-one support. The project's staff works with participants to evaluate and meet their individual needs for housing, job training, education, child care, transportation and emergency assistance. A citywide network of more than 800 volunteers supplements staff efforts through Adopt-a-Family holiday gift programs, cash contributions and donations of goods and services such as car repairs, reconditioned computers, furniture and appliances. Of 280 families that have participated in Project Self-Sufficiency since it began a decade ago, 210 no longer receive welfare subsidies.

STEPS TO SELF-SUFFICIENCY

1. Application and Screening

Low-income single parents with custody of children younger than 18 who live in Huntington Beach or in a shelter anywhere in Orange County are eligible to apply. Applicants submit two letters of recommendation and are interviewed to determine their motivation and commitment to the program goals. The program has room to accept only a fraction of applicants. There are currently about 100 families enrolled.

2. Enrollment and Assessment

Within one month of acceptance, participants design and begin to follow written action plans that outline steps they will take to become self-sufficient. The contract, updated frequently with the help of the project staff, details job training, education, counseling and other activities they must pursue.

3. Recognition and Graduation

At an annual gathering, participants are recognized for accomplishments such as completing their education degrees, maintaining employment for six months, ending government assistance and performing community service. They graduate after completing their action plans, a process that may take no longer than five years.

WHO PAYS WHAT

Yearly cost: $100,000

80%: City of Huntington Beach

20%: Donations and grants

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"Everyone in Huntington Beach from the mayor on down to local businesses and residents who support the program knows that they are turning welfare recipients into productive members of their community. Project Self Sufficiency is meant to help you get the life you want: it's not meant to be your life."

TO GET INVOLVED

Call (714) 536-5263.

Researched by CATHERINE GOTTLIEB / Los Angeles Times

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