Welfare to Work Seen As Health Issue

Phil Ansell, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services, has watched funding for the CalWORKs program diminish over recent years. At an Assembly hearing late last week, Ansell held both hands apart, as if measuring a decent-sized fish in the air.

“If this balloon is our welfare-to-work program,” he said, then moved his hands closer together, “we have managed to shrink it without tearing it.”

If the governor’s recently proposed cuts to CalWORKs go through, though, Ansell said it’s likely that balloon will pop.

“Just from an operational point of view, it would be effectively impossible to implement this program,” he said.

Assembly member Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), chair of the Assembly budget subcommittee on health and human services, seemed a little surprised by Ansell’s candor. “So that would apply across the state, not just to Los Angeles County?” Mitchell asked. “We’re talking large, medium and small communities, where operationally this is unlikely to work,” she said.

“I think, with Los Angeles County,” Ansell said, “we’re just talking about more zeroes [on its budget].”

Assembly member Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) asked Ansell if there might be some sort of alternative, to basically make do with less.

“From where I sit,” Ansell said, “taking away benefits that people use to pay rent, I just don’t see it. If there is some better way to work it — when we’re taking $1 billion dollars from poor people that they use for rent — I would say no.”

Will Lightbourne, director of the California Department of Social Services, said the proposed budget reductions are not the usual kind of trimming, so it may take a while to make the new CalWORKs work.

“It is a difficult proposal,” Lightbourne said. “It’s complex. Really it’s a re-fashioning of the whole program, so there are a number of moving elements. I don’t want to pretend that we know everything about how it’s going to go from the beginning. This will be refined as conversations continue.”

Lightbourne was involved in the creation of CalWORKs in 1998. “I would say that this program, CalWORKs, has been an outstanding success,” he said.

“Our goal is to keep it a success. We have to make the best possible use of the resources we do have.”

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