Bay State's new work program moves thousands off welfare

In less than two years, Massachusetts has moved more than 18,000 welfare recipients into ``real jobs.'' Belinda Pierson, the 18,000th, is a product of the state's 22-month-old Employment and Training Choices program, known as ET. The program is a highly acclaimed alternative to ``workfare,'' a policy with a spotty success record used by a number of states around the nation. Workfare requires people on welfare to work in exchange for their grants.

To Mrs. Pierson, ET and the insurance job it trained her for translate to ``a new home and a better life for my kids.''

Unlike workfare, ET is voluntary. Welfare parents register for one of three programs at some 63 ET stations throughout the state. Those who join the program can: (1) prepare for the high school GED (general education diploma); (2) take technician classes at community colleges for 3 months to 2 years; or (3) receive job-skill training at Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) for 12 to 40 weeks. Other help, such as day care, transportation, and job placement, is also offered.

Paired with these 63 centers are units of the state Department of Employment Services which serve as ET's job-finding arms.

When Michael S. Dukakis first served as governor of Massachusetts (1975-79), he espoused the workfare policy. But now, in his second term as governor, he says it wasn't effective.

``We tried workfare. It just didn't work. There was no real job at the end of the line,'' Governor Dukakis said in an interview. ``ET is the best employment-training program of any state in the nation,'' the governor adds.

``Our people are averaging $5 an hour or $10,000 a year,'' says Barbara Burke-Tatum, the director of ET. ``This is twice as much as they receive on welfare. And these jobs are unsubsidized. The state saves $22 million a year in welfare payments.''

As of June 30, 1985, 22 states had passed some form of workfare law requiring ``able bodied'' welfare recipients to seek jobs or lose their grants, according to Sheila Mandel, a spokeswoman for the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation , a New York agency that has researched this subject for 10 years. Most recipients are mothers, whose children are at least six years old, but who receive AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). Ms. Mandel adds that at least 33 states operate some fo rm of workfare, including 11 states that have experimental programs.

``Each state has different requirements -- some set working hours based on the federal minimum wage; some call for a specific number of hours, all usually designed to having people earn their grants,'' says Judy Gueron, director of research for

Workfare works when a state seeks to place clients in some form of permanent job rather than make work to ``earn'' their welfare checks, she says. Basically, workfare is compulsory. On the other hand, ``ET is [a voluntary] alternative which has had success so far,'' Dr. Gueron says.

The Bay State approach does not attempt to conform to Reagan administration policy, WIN (Work Incentive Program), established in 1981. WIN follows the guidelines of workfare -- work in exchange for welfare checks.

The old Dukakis version of workfare mandated that welfare people accept ``available'' public-service jobs. But his administration did not get much cooperation from voluntary community agencies. That made success difficult because the program found few jobs for placement. And welfare rolls were not reduced.

When he returned to office in 1983, Dukakis adopted ET and reduced the state's welfare rolls. In 22 months ET prepared more than 18,000 welfare recipients for the business world and helped them find jobs.

The typical ET client is white, female, 23 years old, the mother of two children and receives assistance of $4,300 cash, $1,100 food stamps, and $800 medicaid, Mrs. Burke-Tatum says. ``And who can live on that?'' she asks.

Unlike workfare, she says, once ET women get off welfare, they don't come back. The new initiative for ET will be teen mothers, says Mrs. Burke-Tatum -- with Jan. 1, 1986 as target date for reaching young people 16 to 18 through the state's school systems.

Meanwhile, a number of other states continue to travel the workfare route. Can it work? Only if it passes ``tests,'' says Dr. Gueron. She says: The programs should not be punitive; they should lead to real jobs rather than be make-work; they should reduce welfare rolls and should be cost effective.

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