Boston — In 1981, Connecticut will become the first state to institute a controversial statewide "workfare" program for welfare recipients. The venture will put 15,000 healthy welfare recipients into jobs -- and perhaps set a model for other states and the incoming Reagan administration.
Although in recent years most welfare reform proposals have suggested some form of job programs for recipients, Congress and state legislatures have been reluctant to adopt any massive "workfare" program because of charges that it is coercive to poor people. Most workfare programs have been pilot efforts limited to selected local governments.
The Connecticut program, passed last June by the state legislature, applies only to state -- rather than federal -- assistance. It does not affect the more expensive, federally backed $200 million Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.
At least one-third of welfare recipients in Connecticut (not including those receiving aid for dependent children) will report to jobs in 1981 if the unique workfare program proves effective.
It is estimated that most of the nation's 50 states have instituted some type of workfare pilot projects, but only two, New Jersey and New York, have implemented this idea as an option for counties.
Public protest stymied workfare proposals in neighboring Massachusetts under former Gov. Michael Dukakis (1975-79). His successor, Gov. Edward J. King, however, announced a 10-city pilot project Dec. 26, to be financed by a $1.45 million US Labor Department grant. Modeled fter a one-year program in Lowell, Mass., this project offers welfare clients job counseling, training in seeking jobs, and job interviews. The governor's office says Lowell has developed 800 jobs, lopping $2 million from the welfare budget.
Connecticut is requiring each of its 169 communities to submit a workfare plan to its Income Maintenance Commission by Jan. 1. No community will receive its state share -- 90 percent of its general assistance funds -- if it does not offer a workfare proposal by Jan. 1, 1981, or if it does not have commission approval by July 1, 1981.
The passage of the Connecticut workfare law is the result of a compromise between conservative and liberal forces after five years of bouncing around in the state legislature. Regulations were approved Aug. 27.
"Workfare was not sponsored by this department," said Marguerite R. Mancini, state director of general assistance. "Our job has been to develop regulations and will be to enforce them. We looked at programs in other states and came up with own approach -- register every recipient able to work; offer alternatives of education and job training as well as rehabilitation."
Probably the most publicized approach to workfare was a three-year demonstration program in California from 1977 to 1980, says Mr. Mancini. California's counties worked with AFDC mothers on a voluntary basis through a federal grant