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Lowry Blasts Gop Welfare Reform

Gov. Mike Lowry on Friday threatened to veto the Republicans’ welfarereform proposal and blasted their congressional colleagues’ “mean-spirited” plan to cut nutrition programs.

House Republicans fired back, accusing the Democratic governor of defending a welfare system that doesn’t work. They said they resent being cast as anti-children, and asserted it is the current system that hurts children and families by perpetuating dependence and irresponsibility.

The Republicans are pushing one of the nation’s toughest welfare overhaul bills as part of their “Contract With Washington State.” The measure has cleared two committees and awaits approval by the full House, probably next week.

The governor, who has been rather conciliatory toward the House majority during the first half of the session, called a news conference to blister the plan. He did something he almost never does: threaten to veto a bill if it comes to his desk in its current form.

The governor said the GOP welfare proposal would punish children. He specifically criticized provisions to limit most recipients to two years on the welfare rolls, to deny checks to unwed teen mothers, and to establish a “family cap” that would bar grant increases to welfare parents who give birth to additional children.

“What we need is a program to move people to self-sufficiency. … This idea of an arbitrary two years makes no sense to me at all. And remember, we’re talking here about the children,” he said.

“I cannot for the life of me understand why after two years we say to a 5-year-old, `Go out and get a job. You went on the grant when you were 3 years old; you’ve now been on for 24 months. Why don’t you go get a job, you little ne’er-do-well.”’

He conceded polls show broad public support for the two-year limit.

“Welfare is to be a safety net for children.” Lowry said. “People of this state want people off welfare. They want people to be self-sufficient. But they don’t want to punish children. … Let’s not punish children to get at other objectives.”

The Democratic Legislature passed a four-year limit last year; Lowry said Friday that’s as much of “an arbitrary limit” as he supports, although he didn’t close the door on a three-year cap proposed by House Democrats.

The governor flatly rejected Republicans’ assertion that teenagers sometimes get pregnant to qualify for welfare and gain their independence.

“I don’t think that’s why teenagers get pregnant,” he said. “I’m 55 and I guess it’s been a long time, but that just makes no sense to me at all. … It is frankly a preposterous theory.”

“The role of government should not be getting into family decisions,” he said, rejecting the assertion that welfare families have more babies to boost their monthly checks.

“For $100 a month? It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Lowry said he is also distressed by congressional Republicans’ proposal to eliminate federal nutrition and school-lunch programs in favor of block grants to the states at a lower total cost.

House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, said he was amazed and appalled at the governor’s comments. Lowry is defending a welfare system that is broken and that perpetuates dependence on the state, Ballard said.

“I guess he wants people to stay on welfare, and what a wonderful successful program our current welfare program is, a model for the world,” Ballard said in an interview. “It spends enormous amounts of money, perpetuates generations of dependence and destroys self-respect.”

xxxx “Legislative action.”