States Way Ahead On Welfare Reform
President Clinton’s welfare reforms sounded like bold social surgery when they were announced last weekend, but they will do little to alter the welfare face of the Inland Northwest.
In his Saturday radio address, Clinton introduced an apparent get-tough policy for teenage parents on welfare.
The executive order forces young mothers to stay in school and live with their parents if possible. Otherwise, they risk losing their welfare checks.
The measure grabbed national attention in part because of Congress’ ongoing inability to broker any welfare solutions. It was also the biggest public assistance policy initiative from a president who pledges to overhaul 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 address.
But Clinton’s order is a non-event in Boise and Olympia.
The Idaho and Washington legislatures have been crafting and implementing welfare reforms during the past few years that discourage teen-age pregnancies.
Clinton’s order also only affects a tiny fraction of the region’s welfare recipients. No more than 3 percent of welfare households in Idaho and Washington are headed by teenage moms.
Idaho is currently in the process of implementing reforms similar to Clinton’s demands.
“They’re not in opposition to what we’re proposing,” said Mary Ann Saunders, Idaho’s welfare-reform project director. “We’re already saying if you aren’t going to work and/or continuing your education, we’re probably not going to support you.”
Preventing teen pregnancies is a popular crusade around here, especially after a 1991 study showed more than half of Washington’s welfare recipients had their first babies in their teens.
Jerry Friedman, assistant director of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, said the state can meet Clinton’s demands with simple fine-tuning of existing policies.
But Friedman and his Idaho counterparts have been unable to get detailed information from the White House about the executive order.
Morton Alexander of Washington state’s Fair Budget Action Campaign said he was alarmed by Clinton’s welfare directives when he first heard them. On second glance, they looked less severe - even those aimed at teenage moms.
“It’s a good idea to encourage them to stay in school,” said Alexander, an advocate for the poor.