September 20, 1995 in Nation/World

Welfare Reform Approved Bill Ends Promise For Poor, Makes States Responsible

Knight-Ridder
 

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a welfare bill Tuesday that would end the federal government’s 60-year-old promise to help poor families by guaranteeing them monthly payments.

Instead, the bill would slash spending from welfare programs and send a fixed amount of money to the states to attempt what many lawmakers say the federal government has failed to do - help these families become self-sufficient.

The 87-12 vote reflects a change in the country’s financial priorities and would change the rules for a welfare system that serves 14 million people - two-thirds of them children.

Families no longer would be able to get benefits indefinitely. After two years of receiving benefits, mothers with children would have to start working or training for jobs. And legal immigrants who are not yet citizens would be ineligible for most social services.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas described the bill as “writing a new chapter in the history of this great nation.

“We are not only fixing the welfare system; we are revolutionizing it. And in the process, we are closing the book on a six-decade-long system that may have been well-intentioned but failed the taxpayers and the people it was designed to serve.”

But Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, one of 11 Democrats who voted against the bill, called it “welfare fraud.”

“This day will be remembered as the day the Senate broke a noble promise to vulnerable Americans,” he said. “The safety net for children will no longer be part of what makes America America.”

The Senate bill and a stricter bill that passed the House in March now go to a conference committee to try to reconcile differences. Social conservatives plan to press there for more restrictions on who will get benefits.

President Clinton, who vowed during his 1992 campaign “to end welfare as we know it,” has indicated he could support the Senate bill if it is not changed substantially.

Advocates for children and poor families worry that conservative politics have pushed the country headlong into an experiment that could leave more children and families hungry, neglected and alienated.

“We are doing wholesale experimentation without any evidence that any of this works,” said David Liederman, executive director of the Child Welfare League of America, a coalition of 800 groups and agencies that work with troubled children.

“You don’t experiment on the backs of poor children,” he said. “That’s outrageous.”

Some Democrats who voted against the bill complained that it simply shifted federal responsibilities to the states.

“Real welfare reform has to come to grips with the problems of jobs and poverty,” said Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill. “Anything that is called welfare reform but does not include jobs or deal with the problem of poverty is false advertising.”

But momentum behind the legislation was fueled by taxpayer support for reform, the push by some governors for more control over welfare and the Republican plan to balance the budget and provide a tax cut.

After 14 days of debate shaped by internal fights, partisan wrangling and presidential politics, Senate Republicans stood firm in support of a major component of the House’s “Contract With America” campaign document.

Senate Democrats claimed some victory by working with moderate Republicans to add more money for child care, require continued spending of state money on welfare programs and reject a plan that would have denied the average $39 increase to welfare mothers who have additional children.

Senate Democratic Leader Thomas A. Daschle appealed to his colleagues to vote for the bill as a beginning of a welfare reform process.

“It is a better bill now,” the South Dakota Democrat said. “We recognize there is no perfect solution, there is no easy solution. But it does reflect our view of the political realities of today.”

The compromises in the Senate bill guarantee more debate over money and values as the Senate and House negotiate the differences in their bills.

The House bill turns over control of more federal programs to the states and includes more provisions aimed at curbing out-of-wedlock births, such as denying cash benefits to children born to teenage mothers.

The House would also end assistance for most social services, including federal disability benefits, to most legal non-citizens in the country.

Conservatives, led by Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, vow to ensure such provisions are in a final bill.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the House bill would save an estimated $102 billion over seven years. The Senate bill was estimated to save about $70 billion, but compromises have reduced that amount.

Administration officials said the president would not sign a welfare bill that moves toward the House proposal.

“We’ve worked too hard, too long, to let partisan extremism kill this effort,” Clinton said in his Saturday radio address. “Make no mistake: If Congress walks away from this bipartisan progress, they will kill welfare reform.”

In looking ahead to the conference, predicting the outcome is like being a weatherman, Daschle said.

“There are a lot of clouds out there on the horizon,” he said. “They could create a storm, but ultimately they could produce some sunshine for a lot of people as well. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

MEMO: Changed from the Idaho edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: HOW THEY VOTED Here’s how Northwest Senators voted on welfare reform: Idaho Larry Craig, R, yes; Dirk Kempthorne, R, yes. Washington Slade Gorton, R, yes; Patty Murray, D, yes.

Changed from the Idaho edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: HOW THEY VOTED Here’s how Northwest Senators voted on welfare reform: Idaho Larry Craig, R, yes; Dirk Kempthorne, R, yes. Washington Slade Gorton, R, yes; Patty Murray, D, yes.


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