Money from President Obama's stimulus package has created nearly 400 jobs for Los Angeles County residents, but the state's budget crisis now threatens to throw the newly employed back onto the welfare rolls.
The workers found jobs through a county-administered program announced earlier this year that is slated to use $200 million in stimulus funds and eventually create 10,000 temporary jobs.
If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to eliminate state welfare-to-work programs is passed by the Legislature, however, the stimulus money -- and the 10,000 jobs -- would evaporate.
"The potential of this program is amazing because we can lift people up, give them good-paying jobs and new skills," said David Sommers, whose boss, county Supervisor Don Knabe, announced the program earlier this year. "But with CalWorks on the table during state budget cuts, everything is put in jeopardy, and we are at a crossroads."
If the CalWorks welfare program is eliminated, welfare recipients would receive cash assistance but not job help. Anticipating that possibility, county officials already are attempting to persuade federal officials to make exceptions to rules so that the program could continue, Sommers said.
"The county is larger than most states, and we are asking the federal government to treat us like a state, circumventing Sacramento," he said. "The feds have the money to help, and we have the means. We can't allow anything to get in the way."
The workers hired through the program are paid $10 an hour for maintenance chores, clerical work and other functions in public, private and nonprofit workplaces.
Federal funds pay 80% of the wages for one year and the employers pay the rest. At the end of the subsidized period, officials hope that many of the workers will be hired permanently by their new employers.
Ana Martinez, who supervises 20 workers at the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, said her agency would not be able to operate without them.
"Ever since I heard about the problems with CalWorks, I have been glued to the news," Martinez said.
The stimulus-funded program is an expansion of welfare-to-work programs that were in place before the stimulus package, but it offers higher wages and longer terms of government-subsidized pay.
Zoraida Cruz, a 28-year-old single mother, was hired through a CalWorks program last year before the enhanced wages went into effect.
"I had been on and off welfare for years, and this gave me a chance to have the office job I always dreamed about," said Cruz, who has since been hired permanently at a nonprofit organization. "My daughter tells me she wants to grow up to be like me now."
Many of the workers are assigned to the jobs automatically by the Department of Public Social Services, but welfare recipients can also raise their hands for the jobs by visiting their case managers or contacting the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, the contractor operating the program.
Information for job applicants or employers interested in hiring the subsidized workers is available at employment stimulus.org.
Meanwhile, stimulus money is helping to fund other county programs as well.
Medicaid and foster care systems are expecting an additional $442 million between now and next year because of new funding formulas, and $32 million more will go to county road projects. An $81.5-million grant will benefit efforts to prevent homelessness, as well as community development programs.
About $9 million will fund construction at the Compton airport, and individual food stamp benefits have increased by 13.6%.