May 5, 1996 in Nation/World

Cash Cut For Teen Mothers Clinton Announces Executive Actions To End Welfare For Moms Who Move Out Or Drop Out

Washington Post

President Clinton announced Saturday a series of executive actions to force states to end welfare benefits to teenage parents who refuse to finish school or live with a responsible adult.

The directive, which takes effect immediately, was aimed at correcting what is considered one of the most glaring weaknesses in the nation’s welfare system: payment of benefits to young, unmarried mothers who often move out of their homes, end their education and fall into long-term dependency on welfare.

“We have to make it clear that a baby doesn’t give you a right and won’t give you the money to leave home and drop out of school,” Clinton said in his weekly radio address.

While about half the states have provisions aimed at keeping teenage parents on welfare in school and at home, the president’s action Saturday eventually will result in a national ban on payments to those who refuse.

In an election year when welfare is likely to figure prominently, Saturday’s announcement allows Clinton the upper hand, if temporarily, to claim that he has made progress on the issue while the Republican Congress remains stalled on new legislation to overhaul the welfare system. The Clinton administration has granted “waivers” allowing a majority of states leeway from federal rules to experiment in their welfare programs.

Republicans are divided about whether to send the president new legislation. Saturday, however, they repeated their claim that Clinton has stood in the way of welfare reform by vetoing legislation passed by Congress last year.

Clinton said he vetoed the welfare bill because it went too far in cutting spending for the poor and making huge changes in foster care, aid for disabled children and the food stamp and school lunch programs. He also said it did too little to help move people from welfare into the work force.

Compared to four years ago, the president said, welfare and food stamp rolls are down, teenage pregnancy rates have declined and more welfare recipients are working. Much of that has happened, he said, because his administration has granted 37 states “waivers” allowing flexibility in administering Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the basic cash welfare program.

While a major redesign of the welfare system along the lines proposed by Clinton in 1994 or the Republican plan last year would require a change in federal law, the president can order some changes administratively, such as those he made Saturday.

Welfare reform efforts proposed by Republicans and Democrats have focused heavily on teenage parents, in part because they are the group most likely to become long-term welfare recipients.

Half of all adults on AFDC, about 2 million people, had their first children when they were teenagers. And only about half of adults on welfare have high school degrees. There are no firm numbers about how many unmarried teenagers are on welfare. About half a million babies are born each year to teenagers.

Clinton’s four orders:

1. Dropouts lose benefits

The first of four steps would require all states to keep teenage mothers in school, denying benefits to those who drop out and do not take steps to complete their high school educations.

Twenty-six states, including Virginia and Maryland, have such provisions and the president’s order would require other states to adopt such a measure.

2. Extra money to stay in school

The second step will allow states to raise the benefits of teenage parents who stay in school. States can already lower benefits for teenagers who drop out of school but until now could not pay a bonus for those who stay in school without receiving a federal waiver. Saturday’s action removes the need for a waiver.

That approach, which has been in place in Ohio since 1989, has improved high school graduation rates significantly, according to a study released last week.

3. States can send teens back to school

The third step orders states to require any teenage mother on welfare who has already dropped out to return to school or work toward a high school equivalency degree. These teenagers must also sign a “personal responsibility plan.” Under the plan, unmarried teenagers under age 18 receiving welfare must agree to stay at home with a legal guardian, except in abusive and certain other circumstances, help establish paternity and obtain child support and, in some cases, attend parenting classes.

4. States can make teens live at home

Finally, the president urged states to require that teen mothers on welfare live at home or with a responsible adult. Although states have the authority to keep teenagers on welfare at home, only 21 states, including Virginia and Maryland, have such provisions in place.

“The only way for teen mothers to escape the welfare trap is to live at home, stay in school and get the education they need to get a good job,” Clinton said in his address. “We must make sure the welfare system demands that teen mothers follow the responsible path to independence.”

A study released last week by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. found that the Ohio program, known as LEAP Learning, Earning and Parenting - increased high school completion rates by nearly 20 percent among AFDC teenagers already enrolled in school when they entered the program. Employment rates among the same group increased by 40 percent.

Teenage parents in LEAP receive an additional $62 a month welfare benefits if they attend school regularly. But if they drop out or have too many unexcused absences, their benefit is reduced by $62 a month.

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