Welfare Overhaul Passes; Measure Sent To Reagan

Posted: October 01, 1988

WASHINGTON — The House gave final congressional approval to a major overhaul of the welfare system yesterday and sent it to President Reagan for his expected signature.

It is the first extensive revision of welfare in a half-century, and its sponsors lauded the bill as a pivotal change in approach. The bill stresses job training and basic education for recipients in an effort to get them off welfare permanently.

It also requires some recipients to work at mostly unpaid public service jobs at least 16 hours a week to qualify for continued monthly benefits, a controversial provision called "workfare."

"A better name for it is 'slavefare,' " said Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D., Calif.). He argued that the provision would be used in some areas as a substitute for effective training and that recipients would be consigned to the kind of dead-end jobs that caused some of them to end up on welfare in the first place.

The emphatic 347-53 House vote came a day after the bill sailed through the Senate on a vote of 96-1. Reagan has said he supports the measure.

Despite the lopsided margin of victory, several House members complained that the bill represented a high risk at best and a cruel hoax at worst.

"It's a coin-flip as to whether it'll help," said Rep. Bill Frenzel (R., Minn.), who voted for it.

But Rep. Bill Archer (R., Texas) said it was a "loser . . . a bill that does not reduce the welfare rolls and does not reduce the overall cost of welfare."

At the end of five years, he said, the cost of the legislation will be at least $1 billion a year more than the $9 billion the federal government is spending now on the principal welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

The bill will cost about $3.3 billion above current costs over the next five years. While some members complained that this is too much, others insisted that it was not enough to do the job effectively.

"I'm all for jobs," said Rep. Major R. Owens (D., N.Y.), "but you have to put some real training behind it. This bill does not provide adequate job training and adequate education. There will be no real jobs at the end because without the basic job training and education skills, people won't get the jobs."

Hawkins and other liberals chided colleagues for backing down from their own version of the bill, which cost $7.1 billion, had no workfare requirement and offered states incentives to raise cash benefits to the needy.

But supporters called the bill a good beginning that could blossom into a comprehensive attack on the roots of poverty that spawn chronic welfare dependency. "It's a major step forward," said Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D., Ill.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D., N.Y.), one of the bill's chief architects, acknowledged that the final version was "a product of compromise" and did not go as far as the sponsors hoped in providing job-training and education opportunities.

But, he added, "we got extended child-care and health-care coverage for

families in which the mothers are making the transition from welfare to full- time employment, and that is a tremendous accomplishment."

He said those provisions would give mothers more incentive to enroll in job-training programs.

In all, 3.8 million families - encompassing more than 11 million individuals - are receiving AFDC monthly benefits. The federal government contributes about 55 percent of the cost; the states pay the rest.

For years, critics have complained that the welfare system has driven generations of poor people into an endless cycle of dependency, creating a hard core of untrained, undereducated recipients who have no job skills and spend a lifetime on the public dole.

Besides job training and education benefits, the bill provides for child- care payments and Medicaid health coverage for a year after recipients go to work.

Many studies have shown that welfare mothers are reluctant to go off public assistance to take low-paying, entry-level jobs if they lose their health coverage and cannot afford day care for their children.

The bill also strengthens continuing efforts to require absent parents, mostly fathers, to make monthly child-support payments.

In addition, 26 states that do not now do so voluntarily would be required to provide AFDC benefits to two-parent families in which the breadwinner was unemployed. One of the longstanding criticisms of AFDC was that it promoted the breakup of families by denying benefits to mothers if fathers were still in the household.

Rostenkowski estimated that from 250,000 to 400,000 people would be helped each year by the job training and work program, that 65,000 new two-parent

families comprising 285,000 people would now be aided, and that 250,000 to 475,000 individuals would continue working because of the child-care and Medicaid transition benefits.

Costs of the new legislation would be divided between the federal government and the states.

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