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WISCONSIN HAS THE RIGHT WELFARE IDEA.

Byline: Tom McClintock

TEN years ago, California and Wisconsin both adopted sweeping welfare reforms. California put its faith in a massive new bureaucracy, called GAIN, or Greater Avenues for Independence. Wisconsin put its faith in a simple maxim for able-bodied adults: If you don't work, you don't eat.

During that decade, California's welfare rolls have increased 49 percent. Wisconsin's rolls have decreased 49 percent during the same period.

Wisconsin's common-sense approach has produced inflation-adjusted savings of one-third, even while per-family support for welfare recipients has increased. California's costs have sharply increased, even while grants have been reduced.

Wisconsin's success shouldn't be surprising. Benjamin Franklin wrote extensively about the pitfalls of a welfare system that subsidizes idleness, and the need to design welfare programs that require work. Nineteenth-century charities overwhelmed by the homeless soon discovered that a simple requirement to perform some necessary chore before doling out benefits dissuaded a large number of applicants from applying.

Nearly half of those now applying for welfare in Wisconsin turn around and head back out the door when they learn that a job is part of the deal. Welfare payments are cut off after 30 days if the applicant hasn't found a job or actively enrolled in a job search. In 12 months, they must be working in a private- or public-sector job, and in 24 months, their benefits end.

In a weekly radio address to the nation in May, President Clinton lavishly praised Wisconsin's welfare plan, saying it incorporates and enhances all federal strategies to construct a total package of benefits and services designed to supplant entitlement with opportunity, exchange dependency for self-sufficiency and replace desperation with hope for thousands of Wisconsin parents and their children.

Gov. Pete Wilson, who has been fighting an uphill battle for welfare reform in California since 1991, and who hired Thompson's welfare director in 1994, recently unveiled a proposal modeled on the successful Wisconsin reforms.

But the Legislature hasn't exactly jumped at the opportunity. The Legislative Analyst's Office, the liberal majority's think tank, has proposed instead a massive expansion of the state's existing GAIN bureaucracy.

The contrast is dramatic.

Wisconsin has reduced its welfare costs every year the work requirement has been in effect. The LAO projects a cost increase of $360 million in the first year alone, with no net savings until at least the sixth year. Those bureaucrats can be expensive.

Wisconsin expects its welfare recipients to be employed in one year and self-sufficient in two years. The LAO would continue full-size handouts to California recipients for five years, and partial handouts in perpetuity.

Wisconsin loses patience with welfare recipients who haven't landed a job within a year and assigns them to full-time public service jobs. The LAO would allow two full years of idleness, and then ask for only 20 hours of community service per week in the third year, increasing to only 30 hours by the fifth.

Which plan is more compassionate? A 1990 University of Wisconsin study of second-graders from low-income, high-risk families discovered that when the mother worked moderately or extensively during the child's first three years, the family was less likely to be living in poverty four years later.

The debate over how to fix California's failed welfare system will begin this month. Californias have a clear choice between two competing plans. One, by the Legislature's liberals, continues the failed policies that have condemned generations of Californians to welfare dependency. The other, by Wilson, adopts a proven program that has turned around tens of thousands of lives in Wisconsin, saved billions of tax dollars and won the praise of the president.

This is not a time for Californians to be silent.
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Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 6, 1997
Words:611
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