The nation’s governors split Tuesday on whether to guarantee welfare to anyone who qualifies, another sign that the debate over changes in the welfare system is moderating.
While the National Governors’ Association insisted that “states should be free from prescriptive federal standards,” it split along party lines on whether to endorse the idea of block grants - pots of money with few federal restrictions.
All 30 GOP governors backed block grants, but the governors require three-fourths approval before an issue becomes official policy.
Democratic governors said they are concerned that under block grants, welfare money would have to be debated each year and would be appropriated at the mercy of political whim and economic downturns. Now, federal money goes up automatically if the need does.
“We want to make sure that budgets don’t get balanced and taxes get raised on the backs of children and state budgets,” said Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat and chairman of the association.
In meetings with mayors and governors, Republican lawmakers debating the welfare plan have said they are considering:
Changing the two-year limit on welfare benefits to a provision that would require recipients to work after two years, even if in community service jobs. That is similar to the plan President Clinton proposed last year, except that he focused on young mothers.
Eliminating the provision that would make children of unwed teen mothers ineligible for cash benefits for their entire childhood. Republican lawmakers are considering allowing a mother to receive cash benefits after she turns 18.
Enforcing agreements signed by sponsors of legal immigrants to help the immigrants in case of need. This approach either would eliminate or soften a provision that denies benefits to non-citizens.
Being more aggressive in collecting child support. The Clinton welfare plan includes efforts to collect from deadbeat dads.
Republicans see now that their welfare plan “goes too far,” said David Kass of the Children’s Defense Fund, an advocacy group that has attacked GOP proposals, including block grants. “The American people voted for change in November, but they didn’t vote to starve children.”