THE GOVERNORS' PLAN
FEBRUARY 20, 1996
The nation's governors assembled on Capitol Hill to defend the welfare plan they formulated earlier this month at the National Governors' Association conference. Following a background piece by Kwame Holman, Charlayne Hunter-Gault leads a discussion of the plan.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The opposition to the plan comes from both the right and the left, and that's the fight we try and join now. Here to defend their plan are two governors, Republican Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, chairman of the National Governors Association, and Democratic Governor Gaston Caperton, who is with us from Charleston, West Virginia. In the opposition corner on the right, we have Kristi Hamrich, of the Family Research Council and on the left from Schenectady, New York, we have Theresa Funiciello, an author of books on the welfare system and a former welfare recipient. Coming back to you, Ms. Hamrick, what is your overall objection to the governors' proposal?
KRISTI HAMRICK, Family Research Council: Well, the answer to a failed federal welfare system with the bloated bureaucracy and programs that have institutionalized bad incentives, I'll give you more money if you don't marry, if you don't name the father of your children, if you have more children, if you don't work, all these incentives in place with money tied to them and so we say, look, this program is broken down, we need to fix it, and the answer to that can't be, all right, we're going to take all that money and, in fact, add a little bit more, send lump sums back to the states without restrictions and, in fact, not deal with the heart,which is an incentive system. I think that we're overlooking the fact that the American people are compassionate people; they want to truly help, but the system itself has put--has built-in incentives for the kind of behavior which is killing them, which is killing a society.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. That's your overall. Now, give me one specific example of something within the program that you think, the major, one of the major problems with this.
MS. HAMRICK: The major problem is the philosophy. In the Contract With America and with all the welfare proposals today, we have said, illegitimacy, dealing with that behavior, is the core to understanding why our system is breaking down. We are giving you money for not marrying, for not forming strong families, we are not helping families stay together, we're not sticking with the heart. You know, the most effective exit from welfare has been marriage, and yet, what does this program do, does it build marriage-strengthening policies, does it say, look, we're going to deal with the behavior, out-of-wedlock births that are really causing this problem? No. It says, we're going to set up child care centers, we're going to take women with young children and focus on them getting into the work force, rather than dealing with workfare for men or women with older children. Again, we're dealing with bad incentives, but now they're at the state level, rather than the federal.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Gov. Thompson, how do you respond to that? You heard the whole thing, so I won't repeat it. You were sitting here.
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON, (R) Wisconsin: I think a lot of the things Kristina said are very true, and I'm not going to argue with her, but isn't it beautiful in Washington, D.C., that you have people from the Democrat side and the Republican side coming together on a bipartisan approach on welfare reform and yet, we're being criticized from people on the left and the right, so I think we're probably, probably correct. When you have people opposing us from both sides, we're able to come through the middle and say we have a bipartisan. What I differ from Kristine basically is she--she wants to set some national standards, and then I believe give the flexibility back to the states to implement them. I say give it to the states. We're in a much better position to be able to come up with better programs and be able to take people off of welfare, be able to hopefully hold down on illegitimacy, help to bring family units together, and be able to collect the child support and get people to work. These are the kinds of things that governors are doing all over this country. We're the ones that are coming up with innovative ideas that will help people get off of welfare.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Gov. Caperton in West Virginia, do you have anything to add to that?
GOV. GASTON CAPERTON, (D) West Virginia: (Charleston, WV) Well, I think that what we've really emphasized as governors is we want flexibility but yet we want the government to be a federal partner, to give us some guarantees in case of bad turns in, in the economy. I think what we all have to remember is that the President has been one of the real leaders in welfare reform, that governors have to deal with this every day, and they want welfare reform. No one likes the system as it is today, and we're only going to have a good system if we come together in, in some sort of compromise, and that's what the National Governors have done, and I think that we've come up with a good plan that as, as you've shown on this show, that is criticized from the far left and the far right, but I think we've got a very good plan and a good start. Now, the most complicated part about this is what we're going to do about getting people to work. That's the real challenge of this.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, let's get back to that in a moment, but, Ms. Hamrick, let me just ask you, how do you like what you've heard?
MS. HAMRICK: Well--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In response to your criticism.
MS. HAMRICK: I would like it better if we were dealing with the problem rather than the funding source. I mean, the issue is not whether or not the money should be federal money or state money. Frankly, if the governors were willing to say, look, we are better acquainted with it, let's cut out the taxes that are taken at the federal level and let's just reduce federal taxes, and at the state level, let's have full accountability, let's have full control, but that's not what's being said. We're removing accountability from the people. The money is going from them, to the federal government, with no strings, to the states, and we're not saying, look, for our money, we would like some assurances that the lives that are being destroyed in a system that breaks down the family needs to be rebuilt, we need to rebuild this system, rather than just saying the answer is no strings on the cash.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Just a brief response, Governor.
GOV. THOMPSON: The system has failed. This is the best vehicle to make a monumental change in welfare as we know it in our society. Give us the chance. Don't stop it. And unless this package passes, I don't see anything out there. You can talk about all those wonderful theories, but unless you change the law, we still have the same failed system.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Let me just hear briefly from Ms. Funiciello, your overall reaction to the plan.
THERESA FUNICIELLO, Author: (Schenectady, NY) Well, this is a classic case of throwing the baby out instead of the bath water. We're passing the bureaucracy on from Washington to the states. That's lovely. But the one piece of the money that used to be or up until now anyway guaranteed to go into the pockets of poor people, which is the smallest amount of the welfare system, is now up for grabs.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And that is--
MS. FUNICIELLO: That is the AFDC money. If the governors reduce entitlements, or people are cut off for various reasons, that money is what governors are asking to have made available to them. In effect, to distribute as patronage, which is where most of the money already goes. This is a redistribution scheme from poor people to middle class professionals who will receive the government contracts that become available as a consequence. It's truly depressing.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Gov. Caperton, can you respond to that?
GOV. CAPERTON: I don't, I don't concur with that. I think what this bill that the governors have agreed upon is one that emphasizes work, that recognizes the importance of health care, care of children, and, and focuses on education and personal responsibility. I think that those are the right principles, and I think they'll work. I don't think we're going to get an answer on this on either the far extreme left or the far extreme right. I think we've got to come together and do what makes good common sense, be sure we have a program that creates flexibility, and one that has federal guarantees so the federal government could continue to be a partner.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Gov. Thompson, to her specific complaint, that this, this takes money away from the people who need it the most and gives it to middle class people where it becomes a patronage scheme because presumably no checks on the governors and how they spend the money, how do you respond to that?
GOV. THOMPSON: Absolutely incorrect.
GOV. CAPERTON: I agree with that. I don't believe she's correct either.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right.
GOV. THOMPSON: She's absolutely stating a falsehood. That is not true.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why isn't it?
GOV. THOMPSON: The states right now are getting waivers. The states right now have the opportunity to set different levels of welfare in all 50 states. The states right now have flexibility to do things in order to be able to contract out. What we're trying to do is change the system. We're trying to move people from welfare, a dependent society into one of independent.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Funi--
GOV. THOMPSON: We're trying to allow people to have an opportunity to improve themselves. People on welfare are in poverty. We're trying to improve that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Funiciello, he says you're--they both say you're just not right.
MS. FUNICIELLO: Well, I don't know any governor who would say I am right, but that doesn't change reality. The reality of politics is that you, if you have control over money, what you do with it, if you can, is distributed in patronage, and I didn't make that up. That's, that's just the way things are.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Are there checks on this money, Gov. Thompson?
GOV. THOMPSON: Absolutely, there are checks on it. There are checks--
MS. FUNICIELLO: That is absolutely exactly what governors are trying to escape, the checks. That's why they don't want a federal entitlement. That's what they started out saying--
GOV. THOMPSON: She is absolutely wrong. She doesn't even understand what the governors are trying to do.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Where are the checks, Governor?
GOV. THOMPSON: The checks are throughout the whole system.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: To make sure that the money gets to the right people?
GOV. THOMPSON: Absolutely. We have to make sure that people are taken care of. We have to--
MS. FUNICIELLO: That's what you're trying to escape.
GOV. THOMPSON: We have to make sure--what we're trying to do is get flexibility at the state level, so we can--
MS. FUNICIELLO: By eliminating--
GOV. THOMPSON: --administer a program--
MS. FUNICIELLO: --federal entitlements.
GOV. THOMPSON: Why should the federal government--what--most of the problem is, is that one size--
MS. FUNICIELLO: Who is going to stop you--poor people?
GOV. THOMPSON: --fits all does not work. What we're trying--there are different problems in Wisconsin versus West Virginia, versus Delaware, versus California. What we're trying to do is develop a system that is more efficient, more effective, to help people get off of welfare. I would think she would be supportive of that. I would think most people that look at the system say it is failed, it is time to change it, and that's what the governors are trying to do.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Hamrick, you want to weigh in on this?
MS. HAMRICK: Yeah. One of the problems, though, in terms of helping people get off welfare is that we're targeting the wrong people. President Clinton started with the very failed idea that the most important group to target are women with the youngest children, that that's the group to weigh in on, and the governors' proposal also targets women with young children, and so he's put beside a failed federal welfare system a possible failed federal day care system. The research is clear that young children need their mother and that mothers wish to take care of their children. One of our concerns, one the pro-family concerns is that at the very least let's target men, let's target women with older children, rather than institutionalizing with more money a new failed and possible federal day care system.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Gov. Thompson. Let me just get Gov. Thompson in on this.
GOV. THOMPSON: Well, we want to try and change the whole system. We want to try and make sure that we are able to hold families together. We're trying to make sure that children are given ample day care.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But there are specifics--
GOV. THOMPSON: That's where the $4 billion--we've got $4 billion of additional money for child care.
MS. HAMRICK: But that's the problem.
GOV. THOMPSON: And we're trying to give the skills necessary for people to get off of welfare. People forget that people on welfare are in poverty. We're trying to improve their lot in life. We're trying to keep families together.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: There is $4 billion in there for child care.
MS. HAMRICK: Absolutely. But the problem is that they put all this attention--they're saying in the proposal our goal is to increase day care services, to increase day care spending, when we know already that parent care would be better than day care, and frankly, why isn't that money going to help jobs for the older people, for the men, for the men who need to support families and for older women and their--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Funiciello, you wanted to weigh in?
MS. FUNICIELLO: Yes. Men are not on AFDC, and, and so you can't really do much about men by changing AFDC. We're suffering for extraordinary levels of national cognitive dissonance. Mothering is good; mothers who try to do it, umm, ought to be punished. Uh, work is the necessary solution, but there are no jobs. There's no way out. We say, the governors say they're not trying to distribute more patronage, but the only new money in this budget is precisely to distribute in contracts one way or another for what they call child care. But that's what mothers do, umm--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Governor. Let me get Gov. Caperton to respond to that.
GOV. CAPERTON: First of all, you know, this, child care is the problem that goes beyond just poor mothers, but we've got to give mothers that want to work and need to work an opportunity to be sure their children get good care. And that's what we're trying to do. I think it's extremely important and I support--
MS. FUNICIELLO: To work where?
GOV. CAPERTON: --that 100 percent.
MS. HAMRICK: But it's the targeting here. The problem here is the targeting. Rather than working on the, the foundation, which is broken families, which is a system that rewards you when, when the men leave and more children enter a very fractured household. We're not targeting the building up of families; we're not targeting marriage, which is a family-strengthening proposal, with for example wedfare. We're not targeting family cap issues, which says you're not going to get an automatic raise if you have more children. Instead, you're targeting a new bureaucracy. But we're --
GOV. THOMPSON: Eighteen states have put family caps on right now--
MS. HAMRICK: It's a disaster.
GOV. THOMPSON: Eighteen states have put family caps on, and you know, I listen to these arguments. They're still arguing the status quo. Everybody knows that the system has failed. The governors are stepping forward on a bipartisan basis and saying, let's change it. Let's help people get people off of welfare, and yet we get criticized.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Funiciello, let me just ask you briefly, what would you have the governors do that they're not doing now?
MS. FUNICIELLO: Well, certainly it isn't giving poor people money which is a problem. We give money to all kinds of people. Less than 1 percent of the federal budget is what goes in money to poor people. 99 percent of the federal budget is redistributed to other people. But--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is there a way to fix this so that there can be a compromise for welfare reform this time around?
MS. FUNICIELLO: There certainly is, and, in fact, that way was proposed by President Reagan--Nixon, rather, in the Family Assistance Plan, which said let's just give a guaranteed annual income to, to people, cut out the bureaucracy, and go on from there, as we do with Social Security, but underneath all this is not just an attack on AFDC and the children on AFDC, although that ought to be enough to concern people, but this is an attack on entitlements completely, including Social Security. That's where the money is, and sooner or later, that's what people are going to hear. They need to wake up and listen now. I want to hear about justice, I want to hear about compassion, I'm tired of all this, send the mothers to work.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Briefly, Gov. Thompson, do you see room for compromise in there?
GOV. THOMPSON: We have already compromised. I mean, we have gone a great distance and tried to reach an agreement with 50 governors, and this is a bipartisan approach with all the governors supporting it, liberals and conservatives alike, to change the system for the better, and we say, give us an opportunity.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Hamrick, what would you have the governors do that they're not doing now? And let's get a reaction from them briefly.
MS. HAMRICK: Make building up families the No. 1 priority, not building new systems. You're not merely redistributing the money but actually targeting the goal of having men involved in their families' lives, having mothers with young children have better skills.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Gov. Caperton, with critics like this on the right and the left, do you--what do you--how do you assess the chances of getting a welfare reform bill this year?
GOV. CAPERTON: Well, I've found that usually when you get the criticism from the far left and the far right, you're probably in a pretty good place. I think we put together an extremely good program, very bipartisan, both of us, giving a lot to get where we are, but I think it gives us the flexibility and the guarantee we need and I think that it has the--most everything the President has asked for.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right.
GOV. CAPERTON: It's got work. It's got health care. It's got children's care, and it's got personal responsibility. I think we're moving in the right direction.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Gov. Thompson, a chance for success this year?
GOV. THOMPSON: Wisconsin we sort of led the way, we've been able to reduce the welfare caseload by 1/3.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So you'll get a bill this year, you think?
GOV. THOMPSON: I'm sure we will.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, thank you all for joining us.