SINCE Aid to Families with Dependent Children was established in
1935 as part of the United States Social Security Act, the federal
government has been wrestling with whether such assistance helps
people become self-sufficient or perpetuates dependence.
Observers say that with the passage of the Family Support Act of
1988, Congress's best shot at welfare reform in the last 20 years,
states are having to sort that question out for themselves. The
legislation provides $3.3 billion of both "carrots and sticks" to
help get the 4 million recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent
Children (AFDC) working.
But some experts wonder how states will pay for a program that
Congress authorized when the US economy was more robust than it is
A recent Associated Press survey found that welfare rolls grew in
49 states in the last year. And as the number of aid recipients
mounts, the economic slowdown means fewer job opportunities and
fewer tax dollars to pay for programs.
Some states are having problems coming up with enough money to
qualify for federal matching funds.
"Our total federal allocation could have been as much as $13
million, but we received only $6.3 million because we were
appropriated only $1.9 million from the state general fund," says
Lynn Clark, director of the office of public relations for the
Mississippi Office of Human Services.
Robert Ivrey, senior vice president of the Manpower
Demonstration Research Corporation, which has a US contract to study
the effect of these welfare changes over the next eight years, says
the situation is going to worsen.
Southern states are in the worst shape, says Mr. Ivrey. Many pay
benefits only to single-parent households.
Now, to keep welfare rules from breaking up marriages, the states
are required by law to pay benefits to two-parent families. After
paying for the entitlements, state welfare systems have little left
over to set up the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training
(JOBS) program, says Ivrey.
The federal legislation, a compromise between liberals and
conservatives, reflects the lessons of experience. To ease the
transition from welfare to employment, recipients are allowed to
collect day-care and health benefits for a year after they start
working. On the other hand, the new legislation requires mothers of
children three years old and up to participate in job training or
educational programs. The requirement formerly applied to mothers of
children at least six years old.
"This is a step in the right direction," says David Ellwood, a
professor of public policy at Harvard University, who helped write
the legislation. "It reflects a changing view of government and its
role from writing checks to being more pro-active in helping people
get off of welfare."
But conservatives say the generous benefits actually encourage
people to go on welfare, and the sanctions don't go far enough.
"I think it provides expensive benefits to those best able to get
off welfare on their own, and largely ignore the more hard-core
population dependent on welfare," says Kate Walsh O'Beirne, deputy
director for domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, a
conservative think tank. …