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Welfare reform that's working

Alachua County's welfare-reform experiment may be outgrowing its budget. That's good news in one sense. It is not good that the experiment, called the Family Transition Program, could find itself short of money. But the budget strain is being caused by the growing numbers of welfare recipients volunteering for the program.

That means more people receiving assistance want to get out from under the government's helping hand. And they are willing to sign away their right to welfare checks in exchange for help in getting a job.

Florida's welfare-reform experiment operates in two counties. This year, the Legislature appropriated money for expansion to several more counties, maybe as many as five. In Alachua, welfare recipients volunteer for the program, while those in Escambia are required to participate. Those enrolled in the programs receive education and/or training plus other assistance for up to two years to prepare them to go to work. In some cases, public assistance continues after participants are working to give them time to build up financial reserves.

It is a program that makes sense, and that message apparently is getting through to welfare recipients in Alachua County. Enrollment in the Family Transition Program there has increased more than 75 percent in the past four months, to a total of 376 volunteers. An average of 35 to 40 are coming in monthly.

This is evidence in real, human terms that most welfare recipients do not want to live forever on the dole, as some of the more mean-spirited reformers in Congress claim. It also is evidence that Florida has come up with a non-punitive way to reform welfare. Finally, it is another reminder that turning welfare recipients into workers earning paychecks costs money in the beginning but in the end will be an investment with enormous return.

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