Welfare Reform Study Describes Immigrant Women's Problems: CA,

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 23 Apr 1999 19:45:33 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - Wednesday, April 14, 1999 - Page A17


     Researchers find language barriers limiting progress

     Jobs are plentiful in Silicon Valley, but only if you
     have the skills to find them.

     Carolyne Zinko, Chronicle Staff Writer

A new study released yesterday says that the state's welfare
reform has failed to assess the skills of Mexican and Vietnamese
women immigrants in Santa Clara County -- most notably their
inability to speak English. The study says this has caused
unrealistic expectations of the women's ability to finish training
programs and find permanent jobs.

As a result, immigrant women in one of the nation's wealthiest
regions are still on welfare or working in dead-end jobs while
welfare recipients elsewhere are moving into economic
self-sufficiency, according to Equal Rights Advocates, a women's
rights group founded in San Francisco in 1974.

Its study, ``From War on Poverty to War on Welfare: The Impact of
Welfare Reform on the Lives of Immigrant Women,'' was conducted in
1998. It is based on interviews with 75 Vietnamese and 75 Mexican
women receiving public assistance.

``It's not just a problem in Santa Clara County, but in all
counties with significant immigration populations,'' said Doris Ng,
author of the study. ``California has taken a one-size approach in a
state that has more immigrants than any other state -- that doesn't
make sense. Different welfare recipients will have different
barriers. We need to find out what those are and give people the
education and training they need.''

The state is currently moving people off public assistance through
its CalWORKS welfare reform program, adopted in 1997 after the
passage of federal welfare reform law.

The state's program emphasizes work before job training and
education. Under the program, welfare recipients have a five-year
limit on benefits that began in January, 1998.

Among the report's findings:

-- More than 86 percent of the Vietnamese women and 48 percent of
Mexican women indicated poor or no understanding of English. Despite
that, one woman was told to read the classified ads of a local paper
to find a job, the report said.

-- Women reported ``scoldings'' and degrading treatment by county
welfare workers and job training instructors because they could not
speak English.

 -- Immigrant women are discriminated against by being offered
low-paying assembly work, house cleaning and child care jobs with few
benefits and little upward mobility.

Among 17 recommendations to help immigrant women were a
legislative proposal to amend CalWORKS to require assessment of the
welfare recipient's proficiency in English, a call for standardized
and culturally sensitive training of county welfare workers and the
development of ``sister-to-sister'' mentoring programs for minority

Alette Lundeberg, CalWORKS manager for Santa Clara County, said
the situation is complicated by the fact that many immigrants want to
go to work, even when they don't speak English.

The county is working with seven community colleges and five adult
schools to develop more educational programs for welfare recipients,
she said. And she noted that the county already offers ESL classes
coupled with short-term training.

``We recognize we're developing a system,'' she said, ``and it
isn't perfect yet.''


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