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Welfare-to-work program takes hit

Posted: August 3, 2009 9:57 p.m.
Updated: August 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
California's program to get people off the welfare rolls and into the work place has been largely gutted by the recently passed state budget, officials said Monday.

"CalWorks" - short for California Work Opportunities and Responsibility to Kids program - was launched in California in the mid-1990s in response to federal welfare reform legislation.

The welfare-to-work program's goal was to break the cycle of welfare dependence.

But the program took a $114 million blow statewide when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state budget July 28, said Shirley Christensen, Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services spokeswoman.

Those budget cuts are aimed directly at the heart of the program, she added.

"The impact is more on the welfare-to-work component than the actual CalWorks grants," Christensen said.

CalWorks beneficiaries with two or more children under the age of six will be exempted from the program's work requirement, she said.

Those who opt out of working will still receive the grant, or welfare portion, of their state aid, Christensen said.

Where money is saved
"The state will save money on child care, transportation and other ancillary cost related to running the welfare-to-work program," she said.

The recipient loses the wage-earning portion of the benefit plus the work experience, Christensen added.

CalWorks benefits 1,300 families in the Santa Clarita Valley. At the county level, the program's funding could be trimmed by an estimated $33.7 million, Christensen said.

CalWorks was designed as a program to put people back to work, said county Public Social Service Director Philip Browning.

During the last 10 years the CalWorks program put 500,000 people back to work across Los Angeles County, Browning said. During the same time period, the county cut its CalWorks case loads in half - from 700,000 to 350,000, he added.

With the jobs so scarce, Christensen said CalWorks beneficiaries may not be substantially harmed by watching from the sidelines.

"The job market is hurting - it's unlikely someone with two kids under six would find a job," she said.

Mental health cuts
The Santa Clarita Valley Child and Family Center's mental health program for CalWorks recipients could be a casualty of the state budget, said Darrell Paulk, chief executive officer of the center.

"Nearly 80 percent of the Child and Family Center's program comes through the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health's budget," Paulk said. "Mental Health's budget was cut and those cuts will be passed through to us."

Mental health services at the Child and Family Center prepare CalWorks recipients to re-enter the work force, Paulk said.

The depth of the budget reductions is still unclear, he said Monday. "It is too early to know exactly what will be cut. We're in constant communication with the Department of Mental Health and we hope to know what cuts will be made within two weeks."

Other services cut
CalWorks isn't the only program gutted by the state budget process. County officials anticipate in-home domestic services - things like doing laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping - will be eliminated Sept. 1, Christensen said.

"Those services impact the elderly and the disabled," she said.

There is no set date on when CalWorks benefits will change.

Anyone who will see a change in, or elimination of, any county-administered services will receive a 10-day notice, Christensen said.

With the state's economy continuing to tank, Christensen said the state may make more cuts soon.

"The state said they may be forced to make more cuts to services if the economy doesn't improve," she said.

State Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, said legislators could be called back to a special session in October to balance the budget for a third time in 2009.

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