After 14 checkered years of helping welfare recipients find jobs, the federal Work Incentive Program has lost its political battle for survival. Some Virginia officials praise the program, known as WIN, as one of the most successful job training programs funded by Congress.

Other officials nationwide point to what they consider a spotty record. They have accused the program of pushing welfare recipients into low-paying, menial jobs rather than training them for more advanced jobs.

The Virginia average wage for WIN-sponsored employes last fall was $3.59 an hour, WIN officials said. The average hourly wage in Northern Virginia for WIN was $3.80.

The program attempted to nudge participants off welfare rolls and into jobs by providing them with training. Some funds were used for special training programs aimed at the private sector, while other money went directly to private employers for on-the-job training.

The program was financed by the federal government and sponsored in Virginia by the state Employment Commission and the Department of Welfare.

As of Sept. 30, money to WIN was shut off. Its employes have been transferred to other government jobs, its records have been packed away in boxes and thousands of WIN applicants have been left with virtually no options for job training, some state officials said.

"This was one of the most effective programs ever to come out of the Department of Labor," said William T. Harris Jr., former WIN director for Northern Virginia. "You got more for less money than any other program we had."

In 1981, Virginia spent $4.2 million on WIN, state officials with the program said. State welfare officials estimated persons no longer needing public aid because of WIN saved the state $10.1 million in welfare payments. Northern Virginia received about 10 percent of the state WIN budget.

But there is another side to the WIN story. Last year, 25,637 people applied to spots in WIN programs, but only 10,724 were able to get into any WIN programs. Of those, only 5,724 obtained jobs and held them for the required 30 days or longer. Another 5,000 were in training programs.

"Many had barriers to employment," said James A. Wrenn, former state WIN coordinator. "They had transportation problems getting to the job or other things that kept them off the job market."

WIN started in 1968. In its first three years, WIN was plagued with administrative problems--so many that Congress finally stepped in and toughened rules for the program.

Then, for nearly a decade, WIN flourished, despite criticism from some welfare rights' groups that WIN was nothing more than a kind of subsidized slave market that pushed people into menial jobs with poor wages.

Wrenn saw the Virginia program differently. "Originally, there was a great emphasis on training," he said. "We were sending young ladies through college courses as nurses and for other jobs."

But budget reductions and inflation cut into the training programs, Wrenn said. "The emphasis changed to more job development and immediate training, on-the-job training with employers," he said.

Most of those jobs were lower paying for women in service-oriented work, Wrenn said.

In the last months of the program, only about 13 percent of the persons who registered for the program entered the work force through WIN, records show. During that period, Wrenn said, the Virginia WIN budget was slashed 34 percent.

Over the past two years the staff has been cut because of lower budgets. Earlier this year, the state shut its rural offices. The Alexandria office, which served a 12-county Northern Virginia region as well as the city, closed in June.

The 157 WIN employes statewide, including 17 in Alexandria, have been assigned other Employment Commission jobs, officials said.

"I think it (WIN) was very successsful in what it set out to do," Wrenn said. "We saved more money in welfare payments each year than we spent in our total yearly budget."