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G.O.P. Governors Add Welfare Proposal to the Mix

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Washington

A group of influential Republican governors has sent a welfare-reform proposal to Senate leaders that calls for retaining school-meals programs as a federal entitlement as well as revamping other key provisions of the welfare bill approved by the House.

A spokeswoman for the Republican Governors' Association said a majority of the 31 G.O.P. governors back the plan, though she would not specify the exact number.

The proposal, drafted by Gov. John Engler of Michigan and Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin this month, urges Senate leaders to alter some of the most controversial parts of the House welfare bill. Under the House measure, 40 federal programs serving millions of children and families would be converted into several block grants to the states.

The bill, which passed the House last month, would also bar states from offering public assistance to unmarried teenage mothers and deny payments for additional children born to families on welfare. The House bill would also ban cash benefits to most noncitizens, including legal residents.

The governors' plan would let states decide whether to offer benefits to such groups.

A Matter of Philosophy

If House Republicans are to be consistent with their philosophy of transferring the control of welfare programs to the states, the governors argue, they should eliminate those features in the House bill that restrain state authority.

"We think that conservative micromanagement is just as bad as liberal micromanagement," said John Truscott, the director of communications for Governor Engler, who has been negotiating with Senate leaders for the past several weeks.

"States can simply run these programs better," he said.

The proposal also urges senators to allow states to take over the federally controlled food-stamp program, which state leaders claim would eliminate waste.

But there are some programs that the governors say should remain under federal control, including the school-lunch program, which the House bill would replace with a block grant. (See Education Week, 3/29/95.)

Congressional Democrats and child-health advocates have sharply criticized efforts to dismantle the federal school-meals programs, arguing that funding for the programs would ultimately be cut and that children could be placed at particular risk if a state dipped into a recession.

The governors' proposal also calls on senators to amend a House provision that would set up a "rainy day fund," from which the federal government would lend money for welfare programs to states with high unemployment rates. The governors said the fund should provide grants, not loans, to states that qualify.

Falling Through Cracks?

While the governors' proposal eliminates some of the harsher elements of the House bill, it is still unacceptable to most child advocates, who say the plan would still be devastating to the country's neediest children.

"It's only a slight improvement to say states would have the option to do bad things instead of being required to do bad things," David Cass, a senior program associate at the Children's Defense Fund, said."Without federal funding, states would be left with only one option, and that's to cut children off."

In a televised news conference last week, President Clinton attacked the House's welfare bill as "too weak on work and too tough on children." The President has repeatedly threatened to veto any welfare bill that resembles the House version and called on Senate leaders to work with him "in good faith" to find a compromise.

Senate leaders have not officially endorsed the governors' proposal, but a Republican aide said lawmakers are considering the suggestions as they draft their legislation. Senate leaders say they hope to vote on a welfare package by the end of June.

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