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State Must Work On Welfare Reform

While other states were implementing bold reforms to the now-abandoned welfare system, Washington state spent recent years tangled in partisan bickering - and shoveling billions into the dated, ridiculously complex bureaucracy of its Department of Social and Health Services.

Now that even Congress has agreed on reform, the Legislature and governor of Washington can bicker no longer. They have to implement the new federal mandate that welfare be replaced by a jobs program.

That is a profound change in purpose. It’s a good idea and the taxpaying public supports it. Washington’s politicians ought to get on with it, rather than again re-fighting the reform battle for partisan purposes.

Those inclined to re-fight the battle contend Washington must restore some handouts Congress trimmed. That is not the highest-priority use for the state’s dollars.

Instead Washington should concentrate, like other states from Oregon to Wisconsin, on redefining the social bureaucracy’s mission and putting in place inducements and tools for more aid recipients to become self-sufficient.

The inducements must include time limits on aid grants, as well as policies that mean grant recipients will want to work because they’ll wind up with more money, not less, if they take an entry-level job.

The tools must include generous funding for community colleges and vocational schools. The state Workforce Training Board forecasts that the greatest number of good-job opportunities will go to people with community-college training.

If reformers are wise, they will support child care for persons moving from welfare to work - including care during the night and weekend shifts required of entry-level workers.

Legislators mustn’t overlook community mental health services; Minnesota has found mental illness to be the most frequent factor impeding welfare recipients from employability.

Critics dislike time limits on welfare grants. But limits are helpful, if accompanied by constructive services.

Washington’s robust economy makes this a good time for the transition. In many states the mere talk of time limits, coupled with economic growth, is causing welfare caseloads to plummet. Aid recipients, some caseworkers report, are scrambling for work. Washington state’s politicians should get to work, too - at encouraging the trend.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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