County project to cut welfare gains spotlight 'Upfront job search' program is awarded $50,000 federal grant

'To get people working'

If it's successful, effort could become model for nation

November 14, 1995|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has selected Anne Arundel County as one of eight welfare reform demonstration sites across the country. The designation puts the national spotlight on the county's 6-weel money to help welfare applicants with small emergencies or problems that may prevent them from finding or keeping jobs, said Vesta Kimble, deputy director of the county Department of Social Services.

Applicants usually want to work, Ms. Kimble said. But they sometimes have a small crisis -- such as unexpected car repairs or day care emergencies -- that keep them from it. Caseworkers will use the money to help people through those crises, she said.

Since Sept. 20, caseworkers in Anne Arundel have helped welfare applicants look for jobs in an effort to keep them from becoming dependent on public assistance. By January, those caseworkers hope to channel every applicant, typically single mothers, through a "jobs center," where they will find job listings, help in drafting resumes and day care for small children.

The county intends to spend $450,000 equipping the job center in Annapolis.

If successful, Anne Arundel and the other demonstration sites announced late last week will become national models of reform, said Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for the federal agency. The other jurisdictions are Nevada; Pennsylvania; Oregon; Alaska; South Carolina; Napa County, Calif.; and Denver.

As a cost-conscious Congress prepares to overhaul the welfare system and impose a five-year lifetime limit on individual benefits, social workers at the federal, state and local levels are searching for ways to change "the culture of welfare," said Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for Department of Health and Human Services.

That means changing the attitudes of welfare recipients and caseworkers, he said. In the past, caseworkers "had been focused on just making sure they processed the checks correctly." In the future, Mr. Kharfen said, "the objective will not be just to issue a check but to get people working."

Part of that change, Ms. Kimble said, is "setting an expectation of employment."

Anne Arundel's effort already is successful beyond Ms. Kimble's expectations. The goal is to place twice as many people in jobs as Project Independence, the state's 6-year-old welfare-to-work program.

In the first six weeks, the "upfront job search" program has found work for 87 of 311 applicants for Aid to Families With Dependent Children.

By comparison, Project Independence helped 177 people move from welfare to jobs during all of last year.

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