Magazine article Insight on the News

'Moral Fiber' Will Fix Holes in Welfare

Magazine article Insight on the News

'Moral Fiber' Will Fix Holes in Welfare

Article excerpt

Presidents and Congresses have been talking about reforming welfare for over a quarter-century without actually changing a system that has crushed the spirits and extinguished the hopes of generations of Americans. President Clinton, though, has a unique opportunity to be the first president in generations to achieve results that match his rhetoric. That is, if he pays attention to and supports a growing bipartisan grassroots movement to wipe out the dependency culture.

The pieces are in place to assemble a NAFTA-style bipartisan coalition for change. This point was illustrated recently when Democratic and Republican members of the Congressional Empowerment Caucus, the Empowerment Network, the Progressive Policy Institute and leading grassroots organizations held a briefing and press conference to discuss an emerging coalition to achieve meaningful welfare reform.

The White House and Congress would do well to listen to some of the ideas that have brought this coalition together:

* Restore the bedrock of two-parent families. No empowerment initiative will have its intended effect if it doesn't have as its primary focus the restoration of intact, nurturing families. The federal government should follow the lead of private citizens like Charles A. Ballard who founded the National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development [see "A Paternal Approach Combats Illegitimacy" by William Tucker, Nov. 15, 1993]. Using education, intervention and one-on-one counseling, the organization has been successful in helping hundreds of unwed fathers become more involved as positive role models in the lives of their children.

In advocating welfare reform, our leaders can't be afraid to talk about underpinning values. The president must use his bully pulpit to aggressively, passionately affirm the importance of two-parent families and promote reform that strengthens family structures. Irene Johnson, president of a Chicago resident-managed public housing corporation, defined the essence of welfare reform best when she said, "Money is not the issue; instead a vanishing national moral fiber and absentee fatherhood are at the heart of the problem."

* Build up assets to build better lives. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, who administers the nation's food stamp program, has been an enthusiastic champion of Washington University Professor Michael Sherraden who argues that the focus of welfare reform should be shifted from income and consumption to savings and investment. …

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