Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton Preps for Welfare Reform, Act 2

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton Preps for Welfare Reform, Act 2

Article excerpt

Long before the ink was dry on welfare reform - even before he actually signed it - President Clinton talked about "fixing" it.

The provision that denies benefits to most legal immigrants disturbs him. So do reductions in the food-stamp program, especially for the working poor. And interest groups are taking him at his word. In what is usually a quiet period here - the post-election, holiday-season policy hibernation - welfare and immigration activists are jockeying behind the scenes to soften the new law.

But how much can the reform be reformed? The two pieces that Mr. Clinton finds objectionable represent the biggest areas of savings: Over the next six years, the changes in the food-stamp program would save more than $23 billion, and cutbacks for legal immigrants would save almost $24 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But for Clinton to restore any of that money, he would have to find equivalent savings elsewhere in the budget. "There's not much Clinton can do without money," says Demetra Nightingale, a welfare analyst at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. Increasingly, Democrats agree with Republicans on the importance of a balanced budget. And with the Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress, there may not be much room for maneuver in efforts to revise the reform, which eliminates the 61-year-old federal guarantee of assistance to the poor. BUT administration officials highlight several ways that changes can be made to improve the law. First will be a legislative package - a project still in its infancy - that seeks directly to soften some aspects of the law. "{Clinton} believes we can identify savings within the federal budget, so that we don't have to unfairly deny benefits to legal-immigrant families who work and pay taxes and fall upon hard times," says Michael Kharfen, a spokesman at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Second, officials note a new emphasis on job creation for welfare recipients. …

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