Jewish World Review Sept. 19, 2002 / 13 Tishrei, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The Welfare Reform Act passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996 has proven itself to be the most succe ssful legislative enactment since the 1964 and 1965 civil rights laws and the Reagan tax cut of 1981.
Child poverty is at its lowest level in 20 years and the number of people on welfare has dropped from 13 million to 5.3 million, ending the generational cycle of welfare and dependency which had afflicted the black, Hispanic and poor white populations for decades.
Now, this progress faces a dual threat. From the left comes an effort to emasculate its core provision - the work requirement in order to receive welfare benefits - and from the right comes the possible response of eliminating any federal authorization for any welfare program at all when the current statue expires next month.
Congress must reject both threats and build on its historic success by extending the program of Temporary Assistance To Needy Families while not abandoning or watering down the reforms of 1996, which have made it work.
The liberals want to expand the definition of "work" to include education or training. It was just such an expansive definition of labor, which crippled the reforms in the welfare laws pioneered by then-Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) in the 1980s.
Allowed to count any kind of training as work, states avoid biting the bullet and let welfare mothers dabble at job training forever without actually working for their checks. To go back to those days and water down the actual work requirement, which has so effectively raised incomes among the poor, is totally counterproductive.
Bill Clinton not only signed a law requiring work, he also pushed through a higher minimum wage and then declared that all work under the welfare law would be subject to the new, higher minimum wage levels. In addition, he and the Democratic Congress of 1993-94 also doubled the Earned Income Tax Credit, which rewarded those who worked at minimum wage with checks of $2,000 to $4,000 depending on the size of their families to move them out of poverty.
As Clinton was signing welfare reform, he blocked GOP efforts to scale back the tax credit, thus making sure that welfare recipients who worked would earn the equivalent of a lower-middle-class income in return.
But the keystone in this calculus was the work requirement. If that is replaced with a school or training requirement, it will represent an emasculation of the crucial provision which has allowed these women to escape poverty. The same purpose could be achieved by supplemental grants for those who earn degrees. But the work requirement must not be watered down.
The Democrats are also demanding an increase in the $5.2 billion of childcare funds approved by the House. In asking that the allocation rise to $5.9 billion, Senate Democrats are ignoring the basic fact that even though the number of welfare beneficiaries has been cut by almost 60 percent, states are still going to get $16.5 billion or welfare grants that they got when welfare rolls were at their peak. Surely this is enough in the basic program to cover extra childcare.
But the Republicans must not use Democratic intransigence as an excuse not to reauthorize the basic welfare program. The debate over childcare funding is not worth losing the entire program. If the Democrats give way on the work requirement, the Republicans should give in on the childcare issue.
Welfare reform is the best example we have of a creative collaboration between two
parties. Marrying Democratic minimum wage, tax credit and day care programs
with Republican work requirements and time limits has created a major success and
Congress should not let it slip away as the session grinds to a close.
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