States face a wide range of issues -- and tight deadlines -- when crafting new welfare programs.
A team of NewsHour correspondents reports on the impact new welfare law in Wisconsin, New York and California on the day it went into effect.
Three members of Congress discuss the politics between the new welfare reform bill passed this year.
Two state legislators and two national Welfare experts debate the merits of the Wisconsin Works, or W-2, welfare reform program, often held up as a model for national welfare reform.
Browse the Online NewsHour's welfare coverage.
In the spring of 1996, welfare reform was a "battleground." GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole hoped to score political points against President Clinton by critizing him for being unable to fulfill his promise to "end welfare as we know it." Conversely, Congressional Democrats tried to use the failure to pass a welfare reform bill against Republicans, hoping the negative publicity would help Democrats regain control of Congress in 1997.
All that rhetoric ended however, on August 22, 1996, when President Clinton signed into law a welfare reform bill . HR3734 ended 60 years of federal welfare entitlement programs and required states to create their own welfare programs. The state programs will be funded by $16.4 billion in annual federal block grants through 2002.
"Today we have an historic opportunity to make welfare what it was meant to be -- a second chance, not a way of life," President Clinton said on the day he announced he would sign the welfare reform bill. "And even though the bill has serious flaws that are unrelated to welfare reform, I believe we have a duty to seize the opportunity it gives us to end welfare as we know it."
How the states will reform welfare is not clear. Pitched political battles are sure to occur in the nation's state houses over the new plans that will replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and other welfare programs. Currently 12.8 million people, including 8 million children, receive AFDC cash benefits.
Some states, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, have already launched experimental welfare reform programs after receiving federal waivers, but a fair portion of the states are just beginning to draft their own welfare programs, due to the federal government by July 1, 1997.
States will have a wide latitude when drafting the plans, but they must all:
The states, however, can exempt 20 percent of their welfare recipients from the federal time limits and work requirements.
- Limit welfare benefits to five years;
- Require welfare recipients to work, either in the private sector or in community service jobs, within two years of receiving benefits;
- Restrict benefits to legal immigrants.
States can use the block grants to provide job training, child care, health insurance and other programs to recipients that, reform sponsors say, will reduce "welfare dependency" and help move people off welfare rolls and into the work force.
But state legislatures may find innovation expensive, especially since the federal government will spend $55 million less on welfare reform over six years. Most of the savings will be come from a $24 million reduction in federal food stamps for 25 million people, and the elimination of benefits to legal immigrants, measures Clinton and liberal congressional Democrats strongly criticized. Critics also wondered if enough jobs will be available to meet the new work requirements.
Clinton faced strong criticism by liberal congressional Democrats -- including Sen. Patrick Moynihan, widely viewed as Congress' welfare expert. Moynihan said Clinton's signature was a cynical political act that endangered poor children.
"I think I have to agree ... that it is an election year and nobody in the House and Senate wanted to appear to be voting against welfare reform," Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said on the July 31 edition of the NewsHour. "But as the President once said, putting wings on a pig doesn't mean that you have an eagle. And so the question really is: are the children protected?"
Republicans also painted Clinton's signature as politically motivated, even though they suggested the law was widely-supported as part of the GOP's agenda.
"[T]he president realizes that the present welfare system is broke. It's a failure. It's failed taxpayers big time, and it's failed a lot of the people it's trying to help. And I think the president realized it's time to get on the bandwagon," Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said on the July 31th NewsHour.
But as Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) said on that same program: "... I think the American people (wanted) Congress and (wanted) this Administration to pass welfare reform. This is not a perfect bill, but I think you see the Congress working in a positive fashion to get something done. I think it's good politics, and I think it can be good policy, ultimately."
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