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Real welfare bums.

Democrats and Republicans are holding a contest to see who can abolish welfare first.

President Clinton ran on the promise to "end welfare as we know it." Now, as the next election nears, the Republicans are goading him that he hasn't made good. After stirring up voter resentment around this issue, politicians of both parties want to claim the credit for "getting tough" on the poor.

Never mind what this means for the poor themselves. The debate over welfare reform has taken on a surreal quality--it has everything to do with the political fortunes of the candidates in the next election, and nothing to do with genuine public policy or real people's lives.

In real life, there aren't enough well-paying jobs around to allow single parents to raise their children and cover day-care costs. Getting people off welfare, without causing enormous suffering, would require a serious job-creation program, as well as training and day care, all of which are more expensive than handing out cash grants.

Such an expensive program runs counter to the popular message voters hear from politicians: "You shouldn't have to pay for these lazy welfare bums."

Thus, in Michigan, Governor John Engler is embarrassed to find himself the object of liberal admiration for coming up with a plan to get people off welfare that, in theory at least, could actually work.

The Michigan plan doesn't include time limits, or any cap on grants to women who have more than one child. Engler himself concedes he has no idea how much it will cost. But several aspects are bound to be very expensive: Engler is promising 7,000 welfare recipients in six areas of Michigan whatever services they need to hold a job--either in private industry or state-funded community service.

This has displeased some of Republican governor's former allies. James Talent, Republican of Missouri, told Jason DeParle of The New York Times: "If you're going to say everyone is going to work, like John is saying, it's going to be very expensive."

Sure enough.

Talent, apparently, would rather see single mothers starve. He and other House Republicans want to do away with welfare without providing any alternatives.

State-level experiments like Engler's are destined to fail if the federal government pulls the rug out from under them by doing away with welfare entitlements. There won't be enough money to make the experiments work.

As far as entitlements are concerned, President Clinton has already given away the store. He has endorsed the idea of eliminating the federal guarantee of support for poor children. And he has proposed a five-year limit on eligibility for welfare.

In September, Clinton endorsed a Senate bill to rescind the federal entitlement to AFDC. Now the Republicans are trying to embarras him by waving that bill under his nose.

"If he signed the bill, Mr. Clinton would infuriate many liberals in his own party," The New York Times says. "But if he vetoed it, he would disappoint voters hoping that he would fulfill his campaign promise to `end welfare as we know it."'

Whatever happens with the Senate bill, the erosion of welfare benefits is already taking place in thirty-five states, where the Clinton Administration has granted waivers for experiments far more draconian than Engler's.

None of the politicians who are rushing to end welfare have explained what will happen to poor people when the safety net is gone. In the end, the politicians who take the credit for doing away with welfare this year can also take the blame for the suffering that is sure to follow.
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Title Annotation:costs of welfare reform
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Previous Article:Labor takes its lumps.
Next Article:It's party time.

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