FEBRUARY 20, 1996
KWAME HOLMAN: The governors wrote their welfare plan during several days of meetings in Washington two weeks ago and adopted it unanimously. Today, two of the principal authors of the plan, Republican Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware, brought their plan to the House Ways & Weans Subcommittee on Human Resources, the committee charged with turning it into legislation. Republican Clay Shaw is subcommittee chairman.
REP. CLAY SHAW, (R) Florida: This current welfare system is a tragedy. It saps the strength of our fellow citizens who find themselves on welfare. It destroys their dreams for tomorrow, and it takes away their hope for today. Allowing it to continue without change, which is the only hope of the liberals who oppose the bipartisan governors' plan would be a farce. For the sake of both the poor and for the taxpayers, let's not let that happen.
KWAME HOLMAN: The governors' plan is similar to a welfare reform plan already approved by Congress but vetoed by President Clinton last month. Both plans would end the current entitlement status of Aid to Families with Dependent Children and curtail spending on other federal assistance programs. But the governors would set aside $15 billion over seven years for child care, $4 billion more than was offered by Congress. The governors' plan also would make a $2 billion emergency fund available to states during an economic downturn. That's double what Congress passed. Federal assistance money, including funding for the Food Stamp program would be distributed through block grants, allowing each state to design its own programs but with some federal restrictions. As in the Congressional welfare bill, adults would be required to find work within two years, but the governors' plan will allow states to exempt from the work requirement parents with a child under age one and limit the work requirement to 20 hours a week for parents with a child under age six. States also could count up to 12 weeks of job search and training as fulfilling the work requirement. As in the Congressional bill, states could restrict benefits for additional children born to families already on welfare, and states also would receive bonuses for reducing the number of out-of-wedlock births. But Democrat Harold Ford of Tennessee told the governors their plan is too restrictive and questioned how they would protect the youngest welfare recipients, while requiring their parents to go to work.
REP. HAROLD FORD, (D) Tennessee: And we're talking about block-granting or handing over to the states billions of dollars. Where are the checks and balances that we can check to see whether or not your performance is good, whether or not children are being protected here? We want to make sure that welfare recipients become self-sufficient, as you said earlier of the government, however, we want to make sure that the 10 million children who are on welfare are, in fact, protected, and women who are able to work, if they need the proper training and education, that we provide that. I don't want my governor in my state to look at a welfare proposal in your state and think for some strange reason because you've had great success stories in your two counties that I in my hometown or my state would have those same success stories.
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON, (R) Wisconsin: All of us are concerned across this country, Democrats and Republicans alike, for children, for the poor, for the sick, for the elderly. We think as governors, Democrats and Republicans alike, that we can do a much better job if you give us the flexibility. One size does not fill all. Wisconsin is not like Delaware. It is not like Tennessee. Give me the opportunity to set up a program that works in Wisconsin and moves people off of welfare into work, set some federal standards, some general standards that we have to comply with, and come back year after year if you want to, and see whether or not we're hitting that bar, and I'll assure you, just as I'm sitting here, we will surpass those bars, and we will be able to demonstrate to you and to all members up there that we can do a better job if we have the flexibility and the opportunity to set up individual programs in our respective states, be you a Democrat or Republican.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Phil English of Pennsylvania wondered if the governors' plan is restrictive enough.
REP. PHIL ENGLISH, (R) Pennsylvania: What you have proposed, as I understand it, is that you are shooting for a more modest work participation requirement, moving toward 25 hours per week, and I wonder, do you believe that that could be legitimately criticized as weak on work, or do you believe you can take this provision and run with it?
GOV. TOM CARPER, (D) Delaware: A lot of the people that we're trying to move from welfare to work don't have much education. A lot of them dropped out of high school. What we're doing in my state, when somebody shows up at a welfare office, we're not interested in saying, we're going to spend two years or four years training you to be ready to go to work; we want to try to get 'em to work right away. Sometimes the best training a person can get is actually on the job, and what we anticipate doing while people are working, getting into work, maybe they're going to work at McDonald's, maybe they're flipping hamburgers, but the idea is not for them to continue to flip hamburgers for the next 20 years. The idea is for them to get the skills on the job and maybe going to school part-time so that they become the night manager or maybe eventually the day manager and eventually maybe own their own, their own franchise, themselves. That should be what we're about.
KWAME HOLMAN: The governors urged Congress to move quickly to turn their welfare reform plan into legislation, even though the Clinton administration has yet to take a position on the governors' welfare blueprint.