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L.A. County to propose welfare savings to Sacramento

June 16, 2009 |  3:54 pm
With the governor threatening to eliminate the state’s main welfare program, Los Angeles County supervisors this morning voted to push instead for changes that would save the state and county nearly $270 million. Included in the suggestions is a novel proposal: put unemployed parents to work caring for their own children.

Currently, parents receiving CalWorks welfare assistance must attend job training and search for work, and while they do they are eligible for state-subsidized child care. Those with a child under a year old are allowed to stay home and still receive benefits. Now, county officials propose expanding that to parents who have one child under age 2 or two children under age 6.

“What we’re saying is do not cut Welfare to Work outright: Target the cuts to the people who are the most expensive,” said Miguel Santana, a deputy to the county’s chief executive.

Monthly job training and child care costs for such parents often exceed their welfare check, Santana said. The average monthly cash assistance for a family of three on CalWorks is $723. CalWorks-subsidized child care costs the state an average $523 a month for a child under age two and $501 a month for a child under age 6, according to a spokesman for the county’s department of Public Social Services.

Supervisors also proposed capping and overhauling the burgeoning general relief program that provides cash aid to single people, reducing payments to unlicensed child care centers and pursuing a state waiver so they can continue to receive federal welfare funds if CalWorks is eliminated.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich voted against the proposal to allow more parents to stay home with young children.

“They should be seeking employment. In the long-term, it benefits everyone in the county,” Antonovich said of CalWorks parents, saying the proposal will weaken the successful national Welfare to Work effort. He also opposed suggesting to the state that aid to adoptive parents be reduced.

Supervisor Gloria Molina voted for the child care proposal, but grudgingly.

“It doesn’t fit with the spirit of Welfare to Work, but we’re in a different situation,” Molina said. “What we’re doing is trying to say to them don’t eliminate Welfare to Work—here are some savings.”

If adopted, county officials estimate the proposal could save the state $140 million this fiscal year.

In Los Angeles County, 8,000 households with more than one child under age 6 receive CalWorks-subsidized child care, according to the county’s Department of Social Services. Many have a hard time finding work flexible enough to accommodate their children, officials said.

Some child care providers oppose the proposal, saying they are already strapped, with attendance down and desperate parents approaching them to barter cleaning and other services for care.

“It’s a hard economy to get the children, there’s a lot of competition,” said Anna Erbe, director of Canyon Vista Children’s Learning Center in Chatsworth, whichcares for about a dozen CalWorks subsidized children. Erbe has worked at the preschool for eight years and said she has never seen parents facing so much economic hardship.

“A lot of parents are losing their jobs or went to part-time. But they want an education for their children,” Erbe said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske