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Calif. Program Found To Decrease Welfare Spending

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The nation's "largest and most ambitious'' state effort to move welfare recipients into employment led to decreases in welfare spending and increases in earnings after just one year, a new study shows.

The study, released last week by the Manpower Development Research Corporation, is the first to assess the impact in California's Greater Avenues for Independence program, which conditions welfare benefits on the pursuit of employment, training, and education activities to spur self-sufficiency.

Although GAIN was established in 1985, the study notes, it was "an important precursor'' of the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training program passed in 1988 as part of a major federal welfare-reform law.

"These results give us the first solid evidence about what might be achieved by some JOBS programs,'' said Judith M. Gueron, the president of the M.D.R.C., a New York City firm specializing in welfare research.

The study involved 33,000 welfare recipients in six California counties that contain about half of the state's welfare population. It showed that during the first year after entering the program, single parents, who were mostly mothers, on average earned $1,902--17 percent more than members of a control group, whose average earnings were $1,631. The single parents in the program on average received $5,948 in welfare payments, while the control group averaged $6,228.

Heads of two-parent families in the program earned $2,891--$375 more than the control group. Their welfare payments averaged $7,001, or $420 less than the control group.

Wide Variations Found

The study revealed wide variations in the results from county to county, however. For example, there were "few short-term changes in earnings or welfare payments'' for GAIN participants in rural Tulare County during the first year. But the average earnings of single parents in Los Angeles-area Riverside County increased by 65 percent, at the same time that welfare payments fell by 12 percent.

The report also urges caution in comparing other state JOBS programs to GAIN, noting that California's approach is "atypical'' in some ways and that its welfare-grant levels are among the highest in the country.

Still, the state's positive early results were surprising, the report's authors said, because so many participants were still in school or training at the end of the first year.

"With so many participants in school, we expected it to take longer'' to show such positive impacts, said James Riccio, the director of the study.

Copies of the report, "GAIN: Program Strategies, Participation Patterns, and First-Year Impacts in Six Counties,'' will be available in May for $12 each from the publications department, Manpower Development Research Corporation, 3 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

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