Santa Barbara County GAIN Workers and Curtis and Associates-The Dark Side of Privatization
of the International Labor Communications Award for investigative Journalism
Santa Barbara County GAIN workers have charged that Curtis and Associates and the department of social services used misleading statistics to justify contracting out portions of the GAIN program to Curtis. The following is a summary of their charges:
Conflicts of interest:
• The department of social services director has become an advocate of the Curtis program.
• The department director set up a committee of private business people to lobby for the program.
• The department became so vested in the success of the program that it changed the way it evaluates placement rates, allowing Curtis and Associates to count as placements clients who never attended the program.
• The department deputy director advocated bringing in Curtis, retired from the department and was hired as an independent consultant to evaluate the Curtis pilot program. He was then rehired by the county as an interim deputy director and will be recommending increased funding for the Curtis program.
• Curtis hired a former member of the county board of supervisors, who then made presentations to her former colleagues on the board supporting Curtis.
Clients being short changed:
• The department has allowed Curtis to run the program in a way that makes Curtis look good at the expense of clients.
• Clients are thrown into the job market without any assessment of the problems that are keeping them from finding truly self-sufficient employment. If they get a job but fail to get off aid and then return to the program, Curtis can send them out again and claim two placements or more.
• After attending job club, clients are left in limbo rather than being referred on to the next component of the program. (If the client gets a job while in limbo, even several months later, Curtis gets credit for the placement.)
• Clients are not encouraged to apply for services they are entitled to and would be receiving if they had proper case management.
• In short, Curtis employees treat clients as if they were sales leads: they hold on to the clients until they can get credit for a “sale,” regardless of the client’s best interests. They are putting resources into activities that benefit Curtis and Associates and being lackadaisical about activities that benefit the clients.
• Workers fear that the Curtis program is using up the client’s time on welfare, and that many clients will reach their time limit without having obtained the skills or ability to be self-sufficient.
Lack of professionalism:
• The Curtis employees have little training or experience working with welfare recipients. Clients have complained that the Curtis workers have a condescending and demeaning attitude toward them. The program discounts any of the deeper problems that afflict welfare recipients, such as the effects of child abuse, learning disabilities, or substance abuse.
Claims that private contractors do a better job than county workers are highly suspect:
• Workers at the Lompoc office did their own analysis of placements and prepared a report demonstrating that their program had a higher per capita success rate than the Curtis program.
• The department inflated projected savings based on hypotheticals they knew were unrealistic.