Welfare-to-work program does well in California

April 23, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

A study of California's effort to put welfare recipients to work says it resulted in lower welfare payments and higher earnings for the people enrolled in the program -- a finding that bodes well for similar job-training strategies in Maryland and other states.

The study, which is scheduled for release today, is being hailed as an initial report card on the 1988 national welfare reforms approved by Congress.

The federal Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training program provides up to $1 billion a year to states with programs designed to get people off welfare and into the work force.

"Overall, the results were encouraging because the California program is the largest JOBS program in the country," said Judith M. Gueron, president of Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., the New York-based non-profit group that conducted the study for California.

Although California's demographics and economy may differ from other states, Ms. Gueron said, administrators of welfare-to-work programs around the country should take note.

"I have some evidence you're getting something for your money," she said.

Maryland officials were happy to hear that, although it didn't surprise them.

Maryland's 3-year-old Project Independence, which provides job

training for welfare recipients, is "very similar" to the California program, said Deanna Phelps, the Project Independence director.

"We've been predicting that for every dollar we invest in a client, we get $1.60 back in the next four years in avoided costs for Medicaid and welfare," she said yesterday.

"Project Independence has been extremely successful," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said.

Susan Leviton, president of the Maryland-based Advocates for Children and Youth, cheered the study results.

"This study supports what many of us have said: The way to reform welfare is to get people job training and help them with medical care and child care," she said.

The new study focused on 33,000 welfare recipients in six diverse counties in California who had been in the program for a year. The program requires participants with a high school diploma to start looking for work.

Others are sent into education and training programs.

The study found that single parents in the program earned an average of $271 more during the first year than welfare recipients who did not take part -- a 17 percent increase in earnings for participants.

Program participants also received an average of $281 less per year in welfare than non-participants -- a difference of 5 percent.

Researchers were surprised at the quick results, since many participants were still in school or training when the first year ended.

"People are surprised it is having first-year results because some [recipients] went into education programs, and that takes time," said Ms. Gueron of the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp.

Today's report represents early findings, she said. Her company will conduct further studies to determine the long-term results of the California program and to see whether the welfare savings it produces offset the program's costs.

The study also said some recession-stricken states cannot obtain as much in federal funds as they need because they lack the required matching funds.

Maryland cut $500,000 in state funds from the $18 million budget for Project Independence this year to help balance the budget, officials said. The $18 million includes federal and state funds.

Because of shifts from other programs, though, the budget remained essentially the same as last year.

About 40,000 Marylanders are eligible for Project Independence, but the program can serve only 13,000 at a time.

Ms. Phelps said she would be looking for ways to trim costs because the program must serve more Marylanders by next year.

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