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Federal Gov't to Hire 10,000 From Current Welfare Rolls

By Elizabeth Shogren
Los Angeles Times

Attempting to set an example for private industry, President Clinton announced Thursday that the federal government will hire 10,000 people from the welfare rolls before the end of his term to perform an array of jobs - from collecting census data door-to-door to doing clerical work in the White House.

As he announced the plan to recruit welfare recipients for federal jobs, the president released data showing welfare caseloads across the country dropped 20 percent, to 11.4 million, during his first term.

"The welfare rolls have now declined by as much in the past four years as they increased in the previous 25 years," Clinton said during a meeting with his cabinet, the first of his second term, that focused on implementing the new welfare laws. "And that's a great tribute to all of those who worked on welfare reform as well as to the strength of the American economy," he added.

This significant decrease in the number of Americans receiving welfare payments occurred before states began implementing the new welfare laws passed last year by Congress, which ended the system that allowed adults to receive benefits as long as they had dependent children.

Under the new law, states must require recipients to work within two years of joining the roles and limit their cash assistance to no more than five years over a lifetime. The new laws shift vast authority over the welfare system to the states, which must devise their own programs for moving people into jobs. Although the plan was crafted primarily by Republicans in Congress, the president signed it into law - even as he pledged to work to soften some of its provisions.

At Thursday's Cabinet meeting, Clinton again called on the private sector for help in meeting his goal of removing another 2 million people from the welfare rolls over the next four years. The administration estimates that would require moving 700,000 people into jobs.

"Of course the vast majority of these jobs will have to come from the private sector," Clinton said. "But the government must do its share as well."

Given that the federal government employs about 1.5 percent of the overall work force, administration officials believe that the government's share would be to provide 10,000 jobs.

The president plans to convene a meeting of business leaders next month to discuss how the private sector can hire welfare recipients. The federal government also will work to encourage private contractors who work for the federal government to hire more welfare recipients, Clinton said.

Under the president's new plan, six former welfare recipients would work in the White House in clerical positions. About 40 percent of the 10,000 government jobs would be in the Commerce Department, primarily working on the decennial census. These temporary jobs - lasting from six months to two years - and the employees will involve going door-to-door to collect census data.

Welfare recipients will also be recruited to clean up and sell tickets in national parks, work in canteens in Veterans Administration hospitals, answer phones at the Social Security Administration, and provide services at Indian reservations.

Many of the federal jobs will be temporary or part time, but administration officials stressed that some of the employees will move on to permanent jobs with the government and others will gain important work experience for future jobs in the private sector.

Although the plan does not give agencies a new legal mandate to hire welfare recipients instead of other applicants, the agencies will aggressively recruit welfare recipients for their entry-level job openings.

Nor will these be new positions. While the federal government has been downsizing its work force, it still hired 190,000 permanent and temporary workers last year - largely to fill jobs that came open due to attrition.

In devising its plan, the administration spoke with the major labor unions that represent federal workers and did not encounter significant resistance, although welfare recipients will take jobs that likely would have gone to other low-wage workers.

"We're talking about welfare-dependent mothers who in most cases have small children," White House spokesman Mike McCurry said. "We make no apologies for making federal employment opportunities available for exactly those kinds of people. They are, in many cases, the poorest of the poor."

Since most of the new employees will be single parents with children, they will have to find day care for their children. Although many federal office buildings provide on-site day care, the services are likely to be too expensive for many of the former welfare recipients.