Welfare recipients in Virginia will have to enroll in a jobs program next year if they want to continue to receive benefits under either the Aid to Dependent Children or the state-funded general relief programs.
The new requirement -- one of the few of its kind in the country -- is the result of legislation passed by the General Assembly last winter. That "workfare" law was made possible by changes Congress approved last summer in the dependent children program, which is funded 50 percent by the federal government.
There are 59,246 dependent children cases in Virginia, receiving benefits that cost the state $163 million in 1982. The average grant for a family of four ranges from $360 a month in Northern Virginia to $283 a month in rural areas. General relief, a state-funded welfare program offered in 97 localities, provides aid to about 7,000 people.
The Virginia state Board of Social Services approved yesterday a set of guidelines for the state's 124 local welfare departments, requiring them to set up programs to help welfare recipients get work and to steer them to programs that will teach them job skills.
The new policy also requires local governments to provide "work experience" when necessary--a step that some groups fear could turn into a punitive program forcing welfare recipients to earn their benefits.
If welfare recipients refuse to take an appropriate job or participate in local employment programs, they could lose their benefits under the new rules. Exempted from the new rules were people who cannot get transportation to the jobs programs and who do not have access to licensed day-care facilities for their children.
The social services board members, meeting in Virginia Beach, stressed that they believe the new polices will offer "positive developmental" programs to help get people off the welfare rolls.
That approach was applauded by a spokesman for the Virginia Poverty Law Center in Richmond, which has been watching the board's interpretation of the new Virginia law. "We are pleased overall with the improvement that the state welfare department has made," said Debby Oswalt, staff attorney for the center.
Oswalt said the new program's impact will not be known until the local agencies begin to administer it. "Given past experience with the attitude of some localities in this state towards our clients, we are very disturbed by things that could happen in reality," she said.
"The biggest potential for abuse lies in the work experience component, which instead of being a developmental program could end up being a punitive program that doesn't develop any skills at all," Oswalt said.
Northern Virginia welfare officials said yesterday they had been waiting for the state guidelines. The new law passed last session provided $1.5 million for the workfare program this year and some officials say they are hoping the federal government will contribute more money.
It is not yet known what kind of funding is available, said Donna Foster, assistant director for family and adult services in Fairfax County. "We haven't established what kind of work experience will be available."
A major factor for the success of the program in sprawling Fairfax County will be the county's ability to provide transportation and day care for welfare recipients. "Unless these needs are met for our clients, they won't be able to participate," Foster said, "Getting folks to and from the programs and getting them licensed facilities for their children has to be addressed in a parallel fashion."
DeAnn Lineberry of the state Social Services Department said yesterday that the new policies give local welfare agencies considerable lee- way in designing their own programs.
The board adopted language designed to ease fears among public employes that the provision for "work experience" could threaten public service jobs. "It is spelled out that localities cannot displace persons currently employed," she said, adding that "The type of public service jobs we're talking about" is the type "that are not now being done."
"We are hoping that some people will right away find a job. Others may need to get experience and that's where there will be some public service jobs but only for a short term," Lineberry said.
Local agencies also will be required to review what type of job welfare recipients refuse before dropping them from the rolls, Lineberry said. "We wouldn't ask a small-framed woman to take a job that requires heavy lifting."