Governors Ask Fast Action on Welfare Reform
Saying that a "rare moment" of political agreement may be lost if the Congress does not act on welfare reform, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas has urged that legislation include specific provisions to move welfare recipients into the workforce through education and training.
Speaking on behalf of the National Governors' Association, Mr. Clinton told the Senate Finance Committee this month that there is currently a "rare and important syzygy"--an alignment of individuals and organizations around certain basic themes of welfare reform--that would be lost if action is not taken quickly.
But Mr. Clinton warned against providing the kind of flexibility in the new law that would allow some states to simply implement job-search programs and "consider the job done."
"Many of our welfare clients are in need of intensive services," he said. "We would suggest that the bill require that all states provide a range of services to include education and training, without specifying the specific services to be provided."
Mr. Clinton expressed concern about the differences in requirements among the various bills pending before the Congress.
Under the House Ways and Means Committee's bill, a recipient whose youngest child is at least 3 years old would be required to participate in education and training programs. If a state received a federal waiver and guaranteed appropriate child care, it would be able to require welfare recipients with children as young as age 1 to participate.
The bill sponsored in the Senate by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, is similar, but would not require states to obtain waivers to serve recipients with children ages 1 to 3; it also would not guarantee child care for those participants.
The Republican alternative, introduced in both the House and the Senate, would require all recipients with children at least 6 months old to participate in education or training.
Governor Clinton suggested a compromise whereby participation would be mandatory for recipients with children age 3 or older, but only if safe, appropriate child care was guaranteed.
Those with younger children could participate on a voluntary basis and provide their own child care, Mr. Clinton said.
Governor Clinton emphasized the importance of providing such additional services as health insurance to families as they make the transition from welfare to work.
All three bills include some provisions for health coverage for recipients who leave the welfare rolls for employment.
The governors favor having states provide Medicaid coverage to families for the first nine months after they leave welfare. States would have the option of requiring families during an additional five months to pay a premium based on their income, Mr. Clinton said.
The governors also favor giving states the option of extending health care for an additional nine months on the income-related premium or offering alternatives, such as enrollment in an employer's group health plan or a state basic health-care plan, according to Governor Clinton.
He also stressed the need to provide families with transitional child-care services for nine months on a sliding-fee scale, as proposed in Senator Moynihan's bill.
The similarities among the various pieces of legislation are more important than the differences, Governor Clinton said, because they suggest there is a broad consensus on the desirability of changing the current system.
"But consensus is a fragile thing and can quickly come apart in the swirl of deficit reduction, competitiveness strategies, and Presidential politics," he warned. "We must act now."
House Floor Debate Set
In a move that promises to hasten action on welfare proposals in the House, Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee last week attached their welfare plan to the budget-reconciliation bill.
The move has angered many House Republicans because it forces them to offer their alternative bill on the House floor.
"It appears that the Democratic leadership in the House has greased the way to submerge the debate over welfare," said Representative John G. Rowland, Republican of Connecticut.
The Republicans will have to do some parliamentary maneuvering to get a separate vote on the welfare proposals. The reconciliation bill is scheduled for a House vote this week.
On the Senate side, Matt James, an aide to Senator Moynihan, said the Finance Committee planned to send a "freestanding" welfare bill to the floor. There "is only an outside possibility that we would try to attach the plan to our reconciliation bill," he said.