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Utah's highly publicized welfare-reform project in Davis County got off to a very quiet beginning Friday, according to the director of the district Office of Community Operations.

Don Koldewyn said the Department of Social Services will phase in the program slowly over the next few months.Welfare reform is designed to give recipients skills and assistance to find jobs and thus move off the rolls and become self-sufficient. A task force studied the issue and, based on its recommendations, the department requested a $500,000 building block to implement the project in Davis County. Davis was selected because it represents about 5 percent of the total state Aid to Families with Dependent Children caseload.

Although the Legislature didn't fund welfare reform, "we are supposed to have whatever surplus is left over (from fiscal 1988, which ended Thursday)," Koldewyn said. The amount will likely not be known until August, "but we're moving on the premise the money will be there, and I have been assured it will."

During recent meetings, advocacy groups for those with low income have expressed fears that lack of funding will keep the project from success. And if the project fails, the chances of trying again later, with enough money, are considered slim.

"Looking at the whole thing logically, the funds appear to be inadequate," said Shirley Weathers of Utah Issues. "We're very disappointed that the program was not funded in a realistic way. But we are hopeful, because welfare reform is important. Utah needs to continue to take whatever steps the department is able to."

The first steps in the welfare-reform project will include breaking a slightly expanded staff up into teams of three: one worker who will determine eligibility and grant size, a self-sufficiency worker who will help recipients draft "battle plans" and a third worker who will maintain the ongoing case record. The staff has been receiving training and that will continue, Koldewyn said. The major change, at this point, is the addition of day care into the entitlements for reform participants.

"What we're doing," Koldewyn said, "is trying to handle things from the front end. We're trying to find out from the people we're dealing with what the problems are. We want to zero in on those problems. We've been training the staff in human behavior and interpersonal relationships. And if we can help without (people) getting into the system, we'd like to do that.

"We hope to develop a team concept so that the miniteams will feel responsibility for their group. That way, if someone goes off assistance and comes back on, they'll return to the same team, which can zero in on the problems because they're familiar with them."

Koldewyn said the project's success or failure probably won't be noticeable for awhile.