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Weld Welfare Proposal Seeks To Curb Teen Pregnancy

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Emboldened by the authority over welfare programs that Congress is expected to soon transfer to the states, Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts has become the first governor to propose cutting off cash assistance to unmarried mothers younger than 18.

The Republican governor said his plan, introduced this month, is designed to strike out at teenage pregnancy.

Under current law, states must apply for waivers from the federal government before they can experiment with welfare reform. But legislation making its way through Congress would convert more than 40 federal welfare programs into block grants to the states, allowing states to design their own welfare systems.

A few states have proposed restrictions on unmarried teenage mothers that would require them to live at home and stay in school in order to receive welfare payments. But Mr. Weld's plan would be the first to deny cash payments to all young women who had a child out of wedlock.

Mothers younger than 18 would, however, still be eligible for food stamps, Medicaid, and other noncash benefits if they lived with a parent or legal guardian and remained in school, according to a statement released by Gov. Weld's office. Once they turned 18, the young women would become eligible for cash assistance, the statement said.

"There's been a terrible connection between inappropriate early parenting and welfare dependency," said Gerald Whitburn, the state's secretary of health and human services. Mr. Whitburn said that 40 percent of the parents on the state's welfare rolls had their first child as teenagers.

Mr. Weld argued that banning cash aid to young unmarried mothers would help halt teenage pregnancy by "taking away the incentives to get pregnant."

Cruel to Children?

But some child-advocacy groups rejected that argument

"For many young women, babies are not born to them because big bucks result; rather, their desire for a child is driven by fundamental human forces beyond a monthly stipend," said Jodie Levin-Epstein, a senior state policy analyst at the Washington-based Center for Law and Social Policy, a public-interest law firm.

But some groups last week applauded Gov. Weld's approach.

"Welfare reform is about giving positive incentive for good behavior and removing incentives for bad behavior," said Kristi S. Hamrick, the spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, a conservative group in Washington that researches family issues.

If the legislature approves the proposal, it will become part of a state welfare-reform plan scheduled to take effect next week. Public hearings on the proposal are scheduled to begin this week.

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