Federal Welfare Reform Debate Begins

Article excerpt

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. …