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Strategy Endorsed for Welfare Reform

January 07, 1998|MIGUEL BUSTILLO

Acknowledging that the effort is still a work in progress, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan for implementing state and federal welfare reforms.

The county's strategy for carrying out the state CalWORKS program consists of developing a "one-stop interagency system" to help families "achieve and maintain self-sufficiency through employment."

The plan is the culmination of a two-year effort by county leaders.

"I think the plan is representative of all the things we have talked about," said Supervisor John K. Flynn, who has led the county's welfare reform efforts. "1998 is going to be a big year for welfare reform."

About 28,000 people in Ventura County depend on the nation's 60-year-old welfare system. But starting this month, the system will serve as only a temporary crutch: Welfare recipients can now receive only five years of assistance during their lives.

With $5 million to spend in the next six months, the county will be shepherding 8,700 families--mostly single women with children--into the job market.

To make the transition easier, the state will provide increased financial assistance for job-training and child-care programs.

Supervisors said the plan represents a major step forward but will need continuous work to achieve its goals. One obvious flaw, said Supervisor Kathy Long, is the lack of a transportation plan to help people get to work.

A potential problem, Supervisor Judy Mikels said, is the need to organize the public-private partnership envisioned as the key to putting welfare recipients on a career path without enlarging bureaucracy. To involve the private sector more fully, Mikels advocates a broad outreach effort.

Penny Bohannon of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. told the Board of Supervisors the group would like to help put together a forum explaining to businesses why they should employ more welfare recipients.

"Unless we want to see the government get bigger, that's what we need to do," Bohannon said afterward. "The jobs are the ultimate answer, and they are in the private sector."

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