A Four Step Plan To Reform Welfare

It's showdown time for welfare reform. After decades of angry partisan debate, the Clinton Administration is on the verge of sending a "two years and work" reform package to Congress. With welfare rolls swelling and with more children being born out of wedlock and into poverty every year, the time is long since past when serious welfare reform should have been addressed.

But the Clintonites are flinching just when they should be fighting. The chance of passing major social legislation is being lost by political compromises. Too bad. A little political backbone at the White House on four issues could help end the culture of poverty:

-- TWO YEARS AND WORK. This, the heart of the Clinton proposal, is under attack as being too harsh. There are calls to extend it to three or more years, expand the number of women "unable" to work, or dump the time limit entirely.

"Tough love" is the call here. Clinton should insist on a strict series of financial rewards and penalties to encourage training, job placement, and child support. Without this discipline, welfare reform can't work.

-- JOBS. Welfare reform is under attack as too expensive. Opponents say that millions of public-service jobs will be needed because welfare mothers can't get private employment.

That's nonsense. Immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia are driving cabs, cutting lawns, washing dishes, serving food, and helping the elderly all over America. In the past year alone, 500,000 jobs have been created in retailing, 300,000 in health care, and 200,000 in restaurants and bars.

Welfare bureaucrats may not know where these entry-level private-sector jobs are or how to find them. But a modicum of job training and a serious job search could connect most of those on welfare to the world of work.

-- FINANCING. Day care is essential if work is to replace welfare. Nearly all recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children are young women with children.

This will cost real money, but it is money that should be spent. The Clinton Administration has been wimping out on a second round of major federal spending cuts. Trimming agricultural subsidies and cutting back on unneeded rural electrification could generate far more than the $9.5 billion the Administration is proposing to finance its program.

-- STATE WAIVERS. There is a desire among many in Congress for top-down federal control over welfare reform.

The Administration should resist such control and continue to grant waivers to states willing to experiment. Some, such as New Jersey, are trying to keep welfare mothers from having more children by reducing or cutting off payments.

These four steps might not end welfare as we know it. But they would make a significant difference. This is not the time for Washington to punt.

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