Some are more successful than others at getting off welfare, and staying off

There are thousands of stories about people trying to get off welfare some of them more successful than others, but all embarking on a new life with new responsibilities.

Rachel Bennett, a single mother of two who lives in Inglewood, went on welfare at the age of 19, just after giving birth to her son, and remained on government assistance for the next seven years. "It was too hard to go back to work and go to school," she says. "And I couldn't afford the child-care costs. Being on welfare allowed me to go back to school."

She tried to get off in 1996 and actually left the rolls for a few months while working on a packaging assembly production line. But then she got laid off, and shortly after that gave birth to her second child. By the end of that year, she was back on.

When welfare reform was enacted, Bennett was prodded into going back to school, this time to the Long Beach campus of the DeVry Institute of Technology, where she studied electronics. Four months ago, she got a job as an electronics repair technician at Neurosmith, a toy development company in Long Beach.

"It was hard mentally," she says. "I had to be away from my children most of the day, which I really don't like because they are being raised mostly by teachers (or child-care workers). I also became ineligible for food stamps, so I had to really budget my money for groceries."

She now plans to go back to school to complete her four-year degree in electronics.

"I want a better life for my children," she said. "Before, I could rely on welfare benefits to fall back on. Now I know those benefits may not be there if something happens."

Less typical perhaps is Carmie Casal, an immigrant from the Philippines who went on welfare for about five months shortly after arriving in the L.A. area. Casal, who had just given birth in the United States to her second child, tried to get a job when she first came to the Glendale area in 1995, but the openings at Glendale Galleria and Burbank Airport paid only $7 or $7.50 an hour about $1,200 a month before taxes. "It wasn't enough to cover the cost of child care, which was running me about $800 a month for both children," she said.

Casal found temporary help at the Alexandria House shelter, which helped her to get welfare child-care payments of $300 a month for her daughter. (Casal and her older son, who were both born in the Philippines, are ineligible.)

Four months later, representatives from Rhino Records one of the supporters of Alexandria House toured the shelter and met Casal. A couple of weeks later, Rhino hired her on as an assistant to one of its administrators.

"Even with that job, I still needed the child-care payments from the welfare office," said Casal, who is now 30 years old.

Within a year, she became the office receptionist. She now earns enough money (more than $15 an hour) to be completely off welfare.

Howard Fine

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