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Federal welfare reform debate begins.

A welfare system that has evolved over 50 years will never be transformed overnight. Congress and the administration are preparing proposals for a debate to "end welfare as we know it" that will certainly continue throughout the summer and during the fall campaigns.

As New York State Senator Jim Lack cautioned the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, "We are committed to working closely with you to fashion legislation that will comprehensively provide education, training and employment of welfare recipients and ensure that those who work will rise above poverty, and to improve child support collections. For state legislators, this means a new welfare reform policy we can implement, that takes into account how state laws are enacted, that gives the states the flexibility to innovate and address local needs and does not shift costs to the states."

In November, with 162 of 176 members signed on, House Republicans introduced their welfare reform proposal, HR 3500. "This bill emphasizes the view that the majority of people now on welfare want to support themselves and their families and will do so if given the proper encouragement and support," said Congressman Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, co-chair of the Republican welfare task force. "Republicans want to provide the needed balance between new benefits to support the transition to the workplace and new requirements for benefits to motivate some welfare recipients."

The bill requires 90 percent of AFDC recipients to work for their benefits after two years of assistance, emphasizes the responsibility of parents to support their children, encourages states to refuse welfare to married paints and requires unmarried minor mothers to live with their parents.

HR 3500 provides approximately $10 billion to the states and $9 billion toward deficit reduction by ending income support programs (including AFDC, food stamps, Medicaid and Supplemental Security income) for legal immigrants. This has the potential of shifting the costs of serving legal immigrants to the states.

In the Senate, two notable Republican proposals echo demonstration programs under way in Iowa, Vermont and Florida. Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and Colorado Senator Hank Brown have introduced a proposal to require a binding social contract between recipients and the welfare agency that requires recipients to prepare for a job. After two years, they must either have work or be placed in community service for benefits with sanctions for noncompliance.

U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas recently introduced a new concept to the welfare reform debate--"the swap." She proposes that the federal government take full financial responsibility for Medicaid in exchange for states funding the total cost of the AFDC and Women, Infants and Children programs.

"Giving the states both the power and the responsibility for welfare--with their own money at stake--would create powerful incentives for finding more effective ways to serve families in need," she said in March. "Washington does not have a magic answer to the welfare problem. The governors and state legislatures have no magic solutions either, but they have the potentially critical advantage of being closer to the people involved and closer to the day-to-day realities of making welfare work."

House Democrats are split into several ideological groups that are developing competing welfare reform proposals.

Seventy-seven members of the moderate Mainstream Forum have urged Clinton not to give up on his campaign promise and to move forward on time-limited welfare reform. Eighty-six House Democrats led by Hawaii Representative Patsy Mink sent a letter to the president opposing time-limited benefits as "unacceptably arbitrary." Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois has stated firmly that welfare reform will have to wait until next year.

New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who wrote the Family Support Act of 1988 and now, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, will be crucial to the passage of any welfare reform proposal, has said: "We do have a welfare crisis. And we can do both health care and welfare reform."

Through the American Public Welfare Association, state welfare commissioners have unveiled a time-limits proposal that builds on the current JOBS program and requires the federal government to provide 90 percent of the funds for reform.

Many questions remain about the details of these proposals. Can welfare recipients achieve self-sufficiency in the low-wage labor market? Are there enough jobs available, and how can states train recipients to compete for them? Will sufficient funding be available for child care? Will increased funding for welfare reform come at the expense of states through elimination of programs, cost-shifting and unfunded mandates?

"True welfare reform will only come in a partnership between the states, localities and the federal government," says Representative Bill Purcell, majority leader of the Tennessee House. "Our concern for children must remain paramount. But in order to support these children, we must find ways to enable their parents to support themselves. We must reward work rather than welfare."
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Author:Steisel, Sheri
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jun 1, 1994
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