good news from the frontline on welfare reform, according to
UC Berkeley-led study of 9 counties
Pat McBroom, Media Relations
- Welfare reform has opened the door to innovation at the
local level and is transforming a rule-bound bureaucracy into
something much more flexible, according to a nine-county report
by researchers at the School of Social Welfare at the University
of California, Berkeley.
provides the first glimpse into how county social services
agencies in the greater Bay Area have implemented the1996
federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation
is "very positive, so positive that the big question is: How
do we continue this trend?" said Michael J. Austin, UC Berkeley
professor of social welfare and staff director of the Bay
Area Social Services Consortium (BASSC), which carried out
worried about what states would do with their newfound authority
over welfare, delegated by the federal law. We thought welfare
reform might create more problems than it solved, but we have
been pleasantly surprised in California," said Austin.
that the state's welfare reform legislation (CalWORKS), which
followed the federal act, empowered counties to begin reforming
the system, and most counties have done exactly that.
they used was incentive funding - new, more flexible money
that freed up counties to address complex problems at the
local level in such areas as transportation, family supports,
job programs and childcare.
funding created an environment for change and innovation,"
said Austin. "As a result, we are seeing a major transformation
in the processes and culture of social service agencies."
the old welfare system was overly regulated, isolated from
communities and focused on determining who was eligible for
aid. The new, county-based system is comprised of more open
partnerships with community services, many of which use the
energies of gifted local leaders.
does not, however, directly assess the impact on families
and children of welfare reform, which has been cushioned by
good economic times.
very concerned about whether welfare recipients are being
trapped in entry level, minimum wage jobs," said Austin. He
added that the impact of welfare-to-work reforms on their
children is still very unclear.
study BASSC report edited by Austin, "Innovative Programs and
Practices emerging from the Implementation of Welfare Reform,"
is now being forwarded to county administrators.
the outstanding programs identified in the report are:
Family (San Mateo County) This program links middle-class
families with low income families for one year to exchange
visits and give personalized help with anything from hand-me-down
clothes for the kids to buying food in bulk with a Costco
membership card. One family helped a mother buy a used car
without being swindled. About 100 family pairs have been enrolled
so far, with more planned. They are matched with each other
by county staff.
Coalition of Non-profit Agencies (Napa County) Napa County
has accomplished an almost unprecedented feat, said Austin,
in bringing together more than 30 non-profit and governmental
agencies to create a seamless program of crisis centers, support
services, psychological counseling, youth therapy, school-based
programs and in-home services.
nothing short of astounding in my business," said Austin,
about building a workable coalition with so many formerly
recently won a $2 million foundation grant from the California
Endowment for its multiservice Front Porch program, a 24-hour
walk-in crisis center.
Hotline (Santa Clara County) This unusual 24-hour hotline
helps CalWORKS recipients maintain employment by linking them
up with a wide range of social services. In its second year
of operation, it receives some 70 calls per month regarding
childcare, training and education, transportation, job search/resume
service, legal services and more. While most hotlines have
dealt with psychological crises such as domestic violence
or suicide, this is one of a few that helps with work-related
Shuttle (Santa Cruz County) To fill in gaps left by an inadequate
public transportation system, this county program expanded
its paratransit van program for the elderly and disabled to
include welfare recipients. A small fleet ferries people to
and from work, including stops for childcare and groceries.
A temporary program to help recipients in the transition from
welfare to work, the shuttles provided 165,000 rides in one
year, a testimony to the need for better public transportation.
They also train recipients to be drivers. One woman now drives
an 18-wheel truck for a living; others drive local buses,
some of which have changed hours and routes to accommodate
Jobs Pilot Initiative (NJPI) (Alameda County) One-stop job
centers in three neighborhoods in West Oakland, East Oakland
and South Hayward help people find employment. They are particularly
effective in responding to the ethnic, multilingual communities,
according to the BASSC research. Funded by a combination of
public and private money, with help from the Rockefeller Foundation,
the centers also draw on resources from local colleges. They
are located in the following community organizations: the
Institute for Success in South Hayward, the Prescott Resource
Center in Prescott and the Unity Council in Lower San Antonio/Fruitvale.
Bay Area, we are finding new ways to help the poor achieve
self-sufficiency," said Austin. "The new welfare-to-work approach
is involving the entire community and, in that area, we seem
to be breaking new ground."