President Clinton will order today that federal welfare rules be altered to prevent welfare recipients who refuse to work from getting an increase in their food stamp allotments. He also will require “fast-track” federal approval of selected state welfare reform experiments, aides said Sunday.
With Congress warring over how to reform the welfare system, Clinton will make the case, in an address today to the National Governors’ Association, that the nation’s welfare system is being reformed by his administration, although more slowly and incrementally than a broad legislative overhaul would accomplish the task.
While Republicans are fighting an ideological war over the issue, he is doing something to fulfill his campaign pledge to reform the welfare system, Clinton will say.
The president’s address on welfare reform to the governors meeting in Vermont will be preceded by one from Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.
The governors remained at loggerheads on the issue among themselves Sunday. A two-hour closed-door session failed to resolve differences over federal and state responsibilities, mandates for continued state spending and formulas for distributing federal funds.
While Wisconsin Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, incoming chairman of the National Governors’ Association, called the discussion “very constructive,” another Republican, Wyoming Gov. Jim Gerringer, said, “I’m not sure the governors can come out with more than a bland statement.”
Dole has been trying to get the GOP to unite behind one welfare reform proposal but has been unable to enlist the most conservative senators, including presidential rival, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas.
Republicans and most Democrats, including Clinton, agree that the welfare system must be reformed to require able-bodied recipients to work.
Republican leaders have fashioned a bill that would change most welfare programs to a lump sum payment to state but allow states to choose to take food stamps as a block grant or a more traditional entitlement program. The leadership bill also calls for getting more funds to states, like Texas and Florida, with growing populations.
But Gramm and another 23 conservative Republican senators want to change welfare and food stamps from programs in which all who are eligible receive benefits into programs that give states a lump sum (called a block grant) each year. The bill also has provisions to cut off cash benefits to unmarried teenage mothers and deny additional benefits to welfare mothers who have more babies.
Monday the president will announce new executive actions on welfare aimed at getting welfare recipients to work, and prod Republicans to pass legislation according to a draft of the speech the White House gave The Washington Post.
Clinton will direct the Office of Management and Budget to change federal regulations so that states can require work of welfare recipients and not have that work requirement essentially negated because food stamp allotments increase to compensate for lost welfare benefits.
Because food stamp eligibility is based almost solely on family income, if a state reduces a welfare check because the recipient failed to accept an available job or job training, the federal food stamp allotment now increases to cover some or all of the lost welfare income.
Clinton also will order the Department of Health and Human Services to give “fast-track demonstration approval” to state projects featuring any one of five strategies within 30 days. Currently, HHS evaluates the programs within 120 days and often takes longer than that, although it can, and has, given approval faster.
A majority of states already are engaged in small or large experimental programs aimed at getting welfare recipients into the job market so that welfare becomes a temporary, not permanent, condition. In announcing the speedier federal approval process, Clinton is encouraging further experiments in five areas.
Those areas include: programs with tougher work requirements backed up with adequate child care to allow parents to work; programs with time limits on welfare provided that states have jobs for recipients once benefits expire; programs that require teenage welfare mothers to live at home and stay in school; child support enforcement programs; and programs, like one recently approved in Virginia, that allow states to use federal welfare and food stamp benefits as cash subsidies to private employers who hire welfare recipients.
Clinton, in his speech, will tell governors that if they implement reforms around those five strategies, “We’ll approve it within 30 days and then we will have real welfare reform even as Congress still debates the bill.”
To exemplify his administration’s encouragement of state reform, Clinton will also announce waivers from federal welfare rules for programs in four more states. Already 28 states have been granted waivers from welfare rules, more than in the Reagan and Bush administrations combined, administration aides said.
The draft of Clinton’s speech acknowledges that none of the executive actions are a substitute for congressional action on broad welfare overhaul. “I hope these steps will spur the Congress to get off the dime,” according to the draft, which calls for a comprehensive welfare reform bill that contains work requirements, time limits, and tough child support enforcement. Clinton said the bill cannot just dump the welfare problem on the states.
In the move to give states more “flexibility” to establish their welfare programs, Democrats, and some Republicans, argue that one major goal must be to avoid punishing the children of welfare recipients in the effort to force work.