Magazine article Black Enterprise

Can the Welfare System Be Reformed?

Magazine article Black Enterprise

Can the Welfare System Be Reformed?

Article excerpt

Can the U.S. welfare system be reformed? In 1991, tough economic times have forced many Americans onto the welfare rolls and as a result, poverty's high cost has a prime spot on the national agenda. Congress is trying to figure out which road to take toward welfare reform. The Democratic front-runner, Gov. Bill Clinton, tells voters he has been shaping welfare policy issues for years in Arkansas. And President Bush supports the states' efforts to combat welfare dependency and spend less.

It is in the states, not Washington, D.C., where real change is underway. States are trying to cope with shrinking budgets by writing their own plans, some of which are dubbed Workfare, Learnfare or Bridefare. Each is a social contract with the state designed to change welfare recipients' behavior. Benefits are lost for failing to comply, but recipients can be rewarded if requirements are met.

The states' plans have their critics. Advocates for the poor argue that many programs are punitive and may spring from a racial backlash. They fear that in a climate unsympathetic to welfare recipients, states may be overzealous.

David Bositis, of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, says the issue is more economic than racial. "A lot of states are doing things because they're desperate. It doesn't represent a hostile attitude toward welfare recipients," he says.

In its last attempt at large-scale reform in 1988, Congress chose what was termed a balanced approach. It required people on welfare to seek a job or an education, while providing increased day care, transportation and other services to help them meet the goal. With this sweeping initiative, the 1988 Family Support Act, legislators set a goal of self-sufficiency.

Many states felt that the 1988 act was not enough to solve their problems. …

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