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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS / Countywide

Board to Evaluate Welfare Reform Plan

January 06, 1998|RICHARD WARCHOL

Ventura County's welfare reform plans are to go before the Board of Supervisors for approval today, just four days before a deadline for counties to submit their welfare-to-work plans to the state.

Supervisors anticipate no problems in gaining the state's blessing. Two years in the making, the plan already is in place at welfare offices countywide.

The goal of CalWORKS, the new state welfare program that replaces Aid to Families with Dependent Children, is to usher about 11,000 county parents off of welfare and into high-paying jobs.

Under CalWORKS, people may receive no more than five years of benefits throughout their lives. Single parents will be required to work, perform community service or enroll in job-training programs for at least 32 hours each week to continue receiving public aid.

The county plans to open seven career centers, where clients can search for jobs and receive references to various social services.

"We want this system to work," said Supervisor John K. Flynn, who joined Supervisor Kathy Long in unveiling the plans during a news conference on Monday. "We want to see the standards of living for people improved."

But helping recipients exchange welfare checks for steady paychecks will be no easy task, officials acknowledge.

Flynn and others estimate that recipients must earn at least $12 an hour to end their reliance on public aid. In previous welfare-to-work programs in Ventura County, recipients who found jobs earned an average of $5.60 an hour, officials said.

But many recipients face huge hurdles to employment, from poor job skills and substance abuse to unreliable transportation and no child care.

While the state has earmarked $1.9 million to the county for subsidized child care through June, there is no money to expand bus routes to accommodate weekend, late-night and early-morning work shifts. That creates a "big hole" in the county's plans, Flynn said.

Just two in 10 of Ventura County's former AFDC recipients will be ready for work within the next three months, officials estimate. The remaining 80% are at least three months to two years from holding down jobs.

"The challenge is ours," Long said.

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