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Batt Endorses Sweeping Reforms Of State Welfare System 44-Point Plan Requires All Recipients To Work Or Learn Job Skills

Welfare recipients should be taught the work ethic, Gov. Phil Batt said Tuesday as he enthusiastically endorsed a sweeping plan for remaking Idaho’s welfare system.

“I want to create a means by which pride and dignity can be regained through self-sufficiency,” Batt said. “It gives people pride when there is a connection between services performed and a paycheck.”

The 44-point welfare reform plan, developed by a council appointed by Batt that held hearings across the state, requires all recipients to work or learn basic job skills. New mothers would go to work when their babies are 12 weeks old.

It also includes a major new commitment by the state to provide child care for welfare mothers so they can work.

The plan would set a lifetime limit on welfare benefits of 24 months, including payments received in other states. Child care and health benefits could continue for up to 12 months more.

“The day of lifelong dependence is past,” Batt said. “The taxpayers cannot afford it. More importantly, society can no longer tolerate the destruction of the human will.”

Although Idaho has the nation’s lowest percentage of residents on Aid to Families with Dependent Children at 2 percent, North Idaho’s rate is higher, at 2.83 percent.

In Shoshone County, 8.1 percent of residents are on the welfare program.

Idaho’s welfare rolls grew 47.8 percent from 1990 to 1995.

Batt received the plan from his council at a news conference in his office Tuesday. Among those attending were Linda Caballero, chief of the state Department of Health and Welfare.

Caballero said Health and Welfare workers helped design the new plan and are excited about it. Among its changes are a shift to a case management approach.

That means workers who previously could only verify whether or not recipients met federal eligibility rules now will take an active role in helping welfare recipients develop individual two-year plans that move them toward self-sufficiency.

Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden, who served on the council, said Tuesday the reform plan “shows compassion for the truly needy and … helps those who are now receiving public assistance benefits to make that transition from welfare to work.”

The plan leaves room for some limited exceptions from its stringent rules when needed.

It also calls for increased penalties for parents who fail to pay child support or allow visitation.

And it makes parents on both sides financially responsible for their minor children’s babies. Unmarried teen mothers would have to live with their parents, and the entire family would have to qualify to receive benefits.

Although many of the plan’s reforms can be accomplished without new legislation, the child-support rules will require new laws. Batt plans to seek lawmakers’ support for the whole plan.

“The governor wants to still present the package to the Legislature to put the force of the Legislature behind the changes that are made,” said Batt spokeswoman Amy Kleiner.

The governor will meet with lawmakers to discuss the plan Dec. 12, and will travel to several cities around the state later this month to tell citizens about it.

The plan is designed to take effect on or before Jan. 1, 1997.

, DataTimes

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