DES to privatize workfare, public assistance programs

The state more than two years ago sought to privatize management of workfare and other welfare-related services in Mohave County provided by the Department of Economic Security.

While the contract with Maximus fell through because of a dispute over the budget, DES has been directed by a new state law to do so on a statewide basis.

DES issued a notice of requests for proposals Dec.

31 to seek other entities to administer the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (workfare) program as well as child care and supportive services provided to public assistance recipients.

The assistance service, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children under the federal welfare reform act.

The prospective operators must respond to the RFP by March 19.

The successful applicants are expected to begin providing the services in the fiscal year starting July 1 and will have an option to renew contracts with DES when the fiscal year ends on the following June 30.

The purpose of the RFP is to see "what kind of innovative ideas are out there" and determine whether the state can save money, said Thomas Colombo, program administrator for the JOBS program statewide.

DES broke down the state into 16 delivery areas, and may recruit as many as 16 entities to manage the services, according to Jerry Hancock, contracts supervision manager.

The delivery areas are the 15 counties, with Maricopa split into two areas because it is the most populated one.

A would-be contractor could vie for more than one delivery area and for as many as 16, Hancock said.

He explains that the RFP is not limited to businesses and could be open to nonprofit organizations to submit proposals.

A proposal to privatize the same services in Mohave County under a pilot project with another rural county encountered widespread opposition in 2000.

Under the project, Maximus would provide the services in Mohave County, and its performance would be compared with another county in which DES would continue to administer the programs.

The now-defunct Arizona Works Agency Procurement Board voted in June 2000 to pick Mohave County for a pilot project in June 2000 over the objections of the Mohave/La Paz Local Workforce Investment Board.

The work force board includes representatives from local government, private industry and social services agencies.

The work force board opposed the proposed contract with Maximus because the board feared the Virginia-based company would seek a profit at the expense of providing a quality service.

Board members said they were pleased with the services provided by DES.

Maximus was supposed to begin rolling out the program in January 2001, but the company faced delays because of protracted negotiations over the terms of the contract.

In October 2001, the state board rejected the proposed contract amendment with Maximus by a 4-3 vote.

The proposed contract called for paying Maximus $900,000 a year and as much as $400,000 in incentive pay for meeting goals such as placing people in jobs that paid $8.15 or more an hour, according to Lynda French, a Kingman resident who served on the state board and is on the work force board.

Fifty county residents who took part in the JOBS program in November received an average wage of $7.19 an hour, Colombo said.

The workfare program served 495 people through various programs, including job training and placement.

"We have supportive service, which will help people oftentimes with transportation, clothing, books if they need it for a training class or a school, and we coordinate activities or support activities with other programs as needed," Colombo said.

Colombo said the maximum TANF benefit for a family of three is $347 a month.

TANF recipients account for a small minority of county residents who receive child care, according to Tony Zabicki, federal plan coordinator with DES' child are administration.

In December, the latest month available, only 74 of the 1,061 families that obtained subsidized child care received monthly TANF benefits.

Child care benefits amounted to $287 per child per month.