Ed. Plan for Welfare Youths Faces Uncertain Future in House
WASHINGTON--After gaining easy passage in the Senate with strong bipartisan support, a proposed education and training program for welfare youths faces an uncertain future in the House.
The bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate late last month, would allow states to redirect the federal funds now used to subsidize summer jobs for low-income youths.
In lieu of summer-jobs subsidies, state officials could use the money to start new programs that would provide employment counseling, remedial education, and other services to youths from welfare families.
Under the Job Training Partnership Act, the federal government now spends about $686 million a year on youth employment. Nearly all of that money is earmarked for summer jobs.
Supporters of the measure say the current emphasis on subsidized employment fails to address the factors that can put disadvantaged youths on the welfare rolls or trap them in a lifetime of low-paying, menial jobs.
The existing summer-jobs program, said Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, "can be helpful in exposing a teen-ager to the world of work, but only rarely can such temporary work alone break the cycle of poverty.''
"Longer term and more comprehensive training is necessary to accomplish this goal,'' he added.
Senator Quayle's Plan
The Senate measure, sponsored by Senator Dan Quayle, Republican of Indiana, strongly resembles a similar proposal advanced by the Reagan Adminstration earlier this year. The Administration said it would seek to add an additional $800 million over the next few years for youth-related training programs, including summer jobs.
Under Senator Quayle's plan, local JTPA administrators would decide what mixture of year-round and summer-only programs are appropriate for their areas, and would choose how much federal money to spend on subsidized jobs and how much to devote to education and counseling services.
"This bill imposes no new requirements on those operating JTPA programs,'' Mr. Quayle said in a statement, "but it does offer them new opportunities to serve the needy individuals in their communities.''
The bill, which Mr. Quayle attached to a more sweeping job-training plan developed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, was speedily approved on April 2 by the Senate. Mr. Kennedy's proposal, known as the "jobs for employable dependent individuals,'' or JEDI, bill, would grant cash bonuses to states that succeed in finding private-sector jobs for long-term welfare clients--many of whom lack the education or skills to find good jobs on their own.
While supportive of most of the JEDI bill's provisions, the Administration has objected to a section that would expand the number of young people eligible for the new services and require local JTPA programs to meet stricter performance standards. Labor Department officials have said that the proposed standards are "overly prescriptive and burdensome.''
In the House, the fate of the JEDI package depends heavily on the opinion of Representative Augustus Hawkins, Democrat of California. The Education and Labor Committee, of which Mr. Hawkins is chairman, can either kill the bill or send it to the full House for a vote.
While Mr. Hawkins and other committee members have expressed their support for the current drive to reform the welfare system, the chairman is also a strong advocate of the summer-jobs program. According to a spokesman, Mr. Hawkins is "concerned'' that the Quayle proposal, which would add no new money to the JTPA program, would lessen the number of available jobs.
Still, Mr. Hawkins said he is "committed to holding hearings on the JEDI bill'' next month when the committee turns its attention to welfare reform.
The JEDI bill is one of a number of welfare-reform proposals now circulating in the Congress. Unlike other job-training plans, however, the bill enjoys solid support from conservatives, who note that the JEDI plan would not require additional federal spending.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the proposal would save the federal government about $76 million between now and 1992, and possibly more in future years as welfare recipients move into private-sector jobs. The savings would come in the two main federal welfare programs--Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Supplemental Security Income.
Most of the savings generated by the JEDI proposal would go to the states. For every welfare recipient placed in a long-term job, the state would be allowed to keep a portion of the federal assistance that that person would otherwise have received.
Donald Mathis, executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition, strongly endorsed the JEDI bill. The expanded program for young people, he said, would allow local officials to provide vital support services that can help low-income youths succeed once they find jobs.
"Summer jobs can be critical opportunities,'' Mr. Mathis said. "And it doesn't do any good to place people, only to have them fail because they do not have the skills that they need.''
But Mr. Mathis also expressed concern that the absence of new federal funding in the proposal would force job-training officials to pay for the additional support services by reducing the number of jobs they subsidize.
"We understand the need to be 'revenue neutral,' under the circumstances,'' he said, "but the virtues of this bill do not diminish the argument that additional federal resources are needed.''