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Threat to safety net still a factor in welfare debate.

With little liklihood of reaching consensus either among Republicans or on a bi-partisan basis, the Senate resumed its debate last week on welfare reform legislation., S. 1120, the Work Opportunity Act,

The bill would remove the existing safety net for families in poverty by converting many wellfare programs to block grants. The changes are intended to cut federal spending by nearly $50 billion, but could transfer substantial burdens and responsibilities onto states and local governments.

In its current form, S. 1120 would turn Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), job training, and - if a governor chooses - food stamps, over to the states in the form of a block grant or lump sum payment. The key concern for cities - if welfare is block granted to the states - is to prevent states from shifting costs onto local governments.

NLC President Carolyn Long Banks called upon all local leaders to contact their Senators to urge them to oppose the enactment of a bill that would shift costs onto local governments.

"Local officials should urge their members to oppose all measures which would require states to deny benefits to teenage mothers, mothers who have additional children while receiving welfare benefits, and legal immigrants; impose sanctions for unreasonable work requirements in times of high unemployment for unskilled workers; and fail to provide supportive services," said President Banks.

After vigorous lobbying by NLC, and assistance from Senator Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho), S. 1120 now includes a local government consultation provision within both the AFDC and Food Stamp block grant.

This provision would give local officials the opportunity to work with states to plan and design welfare programs appropriate to the local population. This is significant for local governments who would have the opportunity to ensure the adequacy of funds, as well as the design of appropriate programs for cities and towns to aid in caring for poor women, children and legal immigrants.

Unlike under current law, local consultation would be particularly necessary if S. 1120 were enacted, because, by eliminating the entitlement status of many welfare programs, Congress would be failing to ensure that there is a safety net for the poor, mostly women and children, who reside primarily in cities and rural towns.

However, it is unlikely that consultation alone can protect cities from feeling the effects of the five-year $43.5 billion cuts in welfare programs promised in S. 1120.

A series of block grants for AFDC, job training, child-care and, at the governor's option, the food stamp program would provide greater flexibility and perhaps create savings in administrative costs. Local officials voice uncertainty with whether the state bureaucracy is more capable than the federal government of successfully moving families from welfare to work, particularly with far less money.

Moreover, many municipal leaders have expressed fear that by eliminating the entitlement status of welfare and capping funding at 1994 levels, Congress would be failing to ensure that there is a safety net for the poor, mostly women and children, who reside primarily in cities. And, that cities and rural towns, could become the primary caretakers of this vulnerable population.

For these reasons, Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) intends to offer an amendment on the Senate floor which would protect local governments from unfunded mandates that could be imposed by the states while creating their own welfare programs.

S. 1120 would impose work requirements on recipients after receiving benefits for two years, or earlier at the state option, and impose a lifetime limit on receiving benefits of five years. Fifty percent of aU parents in one-parent families receiving benefits would be required to work at least 30 hours a week by fiscal year 2000 or a state would be sanctioned by 5 percent of its state annual grant. States would be required to reduce the benefits those individuals who do not comply with the work requirements.

S. 1120 would permit states the option to deny cash AFDC benefits to out-of-wedlock children born to minor mothers and to deny assistance to children born to parents already receiving benefits.

However, many conservative Republicans, led by Senator Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), continue to insist that the denial of such benefits should be mandatory for states.

Moderate Republicans like Senators Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and John Chafee (R-R.I.) oppose mandating such requirements arguing that they would punish children and undermine the entire concept of block grants, which is to give maximum flexibility to the states to run their own programs.

The Democratic leadership offered a substitute to S. 1120--its welfare reform bill, S. 1117, the Work First Act, which was defeated by a vote of 54 to 45. Like the Republican bill, this bill would abolish AFDC and create new Temporary Employment Assistance. However, the Democrat's bill would maintain the welfare entitlement, while the Republican's bill would eliminate the entitlement nature of many welfare reform programs.

The Democrats bill would also increase child-care entitlement spending over seven years by $9.5 billion. The Democrats highlighted the issue of the Republican bill not providing a child-care guarantee.
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Author:Tabin, Barrie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 11, 1995
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