Clinton Offers Plan To Break Welfare Cycle
President Clinton last week unveiled a welfare-reform plan that would target new sanctions and resources at young single mothers and enlist schools in a national campaign to prevent teenage pregnancy.
Despite its emphasis on younger recipients, however, the plan found few backers in the youth-advocacy community.
While supportive of expanded training, child-care, and child-support provisions under the plan, education and child advocates warned that it could curtail educational opportunities for welfare clients and unfairly penalize children whose parents did not comply with all the new rules. They also complained that the plan would be financed through cuts in programs such as benefits to legal immigrants and emergency aid for welfare families in crisis.
"We cannot support major elements of the President's proposal that could hurt, rather than help, children and families,'' six child- and family-oriented groups said in a joint statement last week.
Conservatives said the plan would cost too much but fall short of reforming the system. They also said that its work requirements are too weak and that it would do little to stem out-of-wedlock births.
Observers said there is little likelihood of Congressional action this year on welfare, particularly with the Administration struggling to pass a health-care-reform bill. The President is expected to forward a detailed welfare bill to Capitol Hill in the next week, however.
Mr. Clinton unveiled his plan at a Kansas City, Mo., bank that employs participants of a state welfare-to-work program, and is also where Harry S. Truman had his first job as a clerk.
In his speech, Mr. Clinton evoked themes sounded in his 1992 campaign pledge to "end welfare as we know it.''
"We cannot permit millions and millions and millions of American children to be trapped in a cycle of dependency,'' the President said, "with people who are not responsible for bringing them into the world, with parents who are trapped in a system that doesn't develop their human capacity to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilities and to succeed as both workers and parents.''
Two-Year Benefit Limit
The plan aims to restrict most welfare clients to a lifetime maximum of two years of benefits. If they still could not find jobs, they would be placed in a government-subsidized work program providing private-sector jobs and positions in the nonprofit and public sectors.
While not time limited, the work program would discourage lengthy stays and limit any one assignment to 12 months.
Together with their case workers, recipients would have to develop plans identifying the education, training, and job-placement services they needed to begin work.
Parents who refused to stay in school, look for work, or attend job training could lose benefits.
The plan has been scaled back in scope and price since Mr. Clinton first discussed his welfare ideas. It would initially apply only to recipients born after 1971, who will make up an estimated one-third of those on the rolls in 1996, when the plan would start. By 2000 it would cover about half, or 2.4 million, of the adults on welfare.
A summary of the plan notes that younger recipients, most often single mothers, are the group likely to stay on welfare the longest.
"Under this phase-in approach,'' it states, "we will devote energy and new resources to ending welfare for the next generation, rather than spreading efforts so thin that little real help is provided to anyone.''
The teenage-pregnancy-prevention campaign would provide grants to 1,000 middle and high schools; launch a clearinghouse to provide curriculum materials and training; and back other efforts to provide services for young people and foster "responsible parenting.''
Mr. Clinton's plan would cost $9.3 billion over five years, including $2.8 billion to expand funding for education, training, and job placement; $1.2 billion for the subsidized-work program; and $4.2 billion for extra child-care funding.
Of the child-care money, $2.7 billion would go for welfare clients in education and training and work programs, while $1.5 billion would be available for poor working families not on welfare.
The plan also includes $600 million for new procedures and demonstration programs to improve child-support enforcement.
An unmarried minor mother would be required to identify her child's father and to live at home or with a responsible adult in order to be eligible for benefits. The plan also would allow states to limit additional benefits for mothers who had more children while on welfare, and to use cash incentives to keep teenage parents in school.
While voicing concern over financing mechanisms that could shift extra costs to the states, the National Governors' Association and other state groups expressed support for the plan's principles, particularly its work incentives and time limits.
Too Weak or Too Tough?
But many conservative observers said the plan does not go far enough.
At a news conference sponsored by Republican House and Senate sponsors of a more stringent welfare bill, former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said the plan amounts to "marginal tinkering'' and "underdelivers'' on Mr. Clinton's promises.
"This does not constitute even a modest step forward,'' said Robert Rector, a senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation. The plan sets "lenient'' standards for a "minuscule fraction'' of clients and would actually increase welfare costs, he argued.
Some conservative analysts argue that the only way to control welfare costs and stem illegitimacy is to cut off aid for single women with children.
But child advocates said last week that the plan's time limits and sanctions are too punitive and inflexible and would erode a fragile "safety net'' for poor children.
At a news conference held here by the Child Welfare League of America, members of social-action groups said the plan could plunge some families deeper into poverty and place children at risk.
"The President's prosposal may harm children, result in breaking up families, and cause children ... to enter the child-welfare system,'' said David S. Liederman, the league's executive director.
Limited Education Seen
Some 88 groups also have signed a letter to Mr. Clinton maintaining that allowing states to exclude children conceived on welfare from benefits "will punish innocent children and their siblings in families struggling to stretch meager resources.''
Some critics also fear that the plan would limit educational opportunity.
The plan would boost funds for the Job Opportunity and Basic Skills Training program passed in the 1988 welfare-reform law.
But "states will be under pressure to focus on immediate job entry,'' said Mark Greenberg, a senior staff lawyer with the Center for Law and Social Policy, adding that the two-year limit would "make it much harder for states to allow for longer-term access to education.''
The plan would let states grant a "very limited number'' of extensions for education programs.
Diane Shust, a senior professional associate for the National Education Association, also noted that keeping teenage parents on track in school would require "Cadillac'' case-management services.
Early-childhood experts argue that breaking the welfare cycle hinges on strong child care. The plan provides less child-care aid than was anticipated, but includes provisions to help bolster quality.
Highlights of the President's Welfare Plan
Restricts welfare recipients able to work to a lifetime maximum of 24 months of cash assistance, with certain exceptions.
Requires those who cannot find jobs after two years to enter a government-subsidized work program.
Phases in new rules first for recipients born after 1971.
Expands training and child care for families on welfare.
Imposes sanctions on parents who refuse to stay in school, look for work, or attend job training.
Calls for $300 million campaign against teenage pregnancy.
Includes plan to establish paternity of all children at birth and toughen enforcement of child-support payments by noncustodial parents.
Allows states to deny additional benefits to women who have
children while on welfare.