G.O.P. Welfare Proposal Is Misguided, Clinton Tells Governors

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Speaking at a meeting sponsored by the National Governors Association, President Clinton last week sharply criticized the Republican-led effort to reform the welfare system--an initiative that counts governors among its strongest supporters.

"From the point of view of Congress," the President said, "welfare reform is not about welfare reform anymore."

Welfare reform means "cut spending on the poor so we don't have to worry about it," he asserted, "and give a big tax cut, primarily to the wealthy."

Mr. Clinton made his remarks here at the "National Summit on Young Children," a two-day event attended by nine governors as well as several Administration officials, state legislators, and local officials.

Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, the current N.G.A. chairman and a Democrat, led the meeting, which focused on ways that all levels of government can better provide services to young children and families.

Throughout the congenial, bipartisan summit, participants underscored the importance of engaging communities in that effort and of setting clear benchmarks for success and methods of accountability.

But Mr. Clinton's remarks put a spotlight on the contentious issue of welfare reform, which has opened a deep partisan divide on Capitol Hill.

An Ideological War

Observers say the Senate is unlikely to follow the House's lead in replacing school-meals programs with a block grant. But the welfare-reform package pending in that chamber, like the bill the House approved in March, would scrap some 40 federal programs serving children and families and replace them with lump-sum payments to states. (See Education Week, 6/7/95.)

Child-welfare advocates, and many Democrats, argue that giving governors so much flexibility and removing funding guarantees would result in diminished services for poor children.

"You shouldn't walk away" from the needs of children, Mr. Clinton said last week, and "you shouldn't want us to put you in a position to walk away."

Mr. Clinton asked the state leaders rhetorically how they will protect the needs of children when they come up against pressure from more powerful groups, such as the elderly, the education lobby, and "the lobby that no one can say no to--the prison lobby."

But Gov. George V. Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican, defended the G.O.P. proposals.

"State and local people do care as much for families and children as the federal government," he said.

Mr. Voinovich listed some of the improvements he said Ohio has made since it received waivers from some federal requirements: securing the help of Rotary clubs in offering immunizations, employing nurse practitioners in rural schools, setting up urban crisis centers, and getting local grocery stores to provide checkout-counter advertising for free prenatal care.

"I believe there's a lot of things we could be doing without going through that waiver process," the Governor said.

The Advocacy Outlook

At a press conference planned to coincide with the summit, child-care advocates joined Mr. Clinton in denouncing the welfare proposals, which include child-care programs among those to be superseded by block grants. At a time when the federal government is planning to increase the need for child care by requiring mothers on welfare to go to work, funding for child-care programs should not be slashed, they said.

Helen Blank, the director of child care and family-support services for the Children's Defense Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group, commented that the n.g.a. summit is "a very ironic conference given the timing."

"It's like rearranging the deck furniture on the Titanic," added Larry Aber, the director of the National Center for Children in Poverty, a research organization based in New York City.

The advocates pointed to a joint statement sent earlier this month to lawmakers by four scientific organizations that study child development, outlining recent research findings that support child-care advocates' argument that high-quality child care is crucial to the healthy development of children.

Vol. 14, Issue 38

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