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Democrats Drawing Plans to Enhance Social Services

November 06, 1986|LEE MAY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Buoyed by their decisive congressional victories, Democrats are shaping efforts to revise the nation's social services system--efforts that are likely to conflict with those of the Reagan Administration.

As part of the Democratic blueprint, a new report by Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, calls for legislation that would provide federally funded child-care programs and expansion of a number of services to children--measures the Reagan Administration is expected to oppose.

In an interview, Hawkins complained that in the last session the Democratic-controlled House passed seven bills on social services but that the Republican-dominated Senate refused to consider any of them. "That will change," he said.

The Democratic takeover of the Senate--and thus appointments to crucial committee chairmanships--along with a gain in House seats means that "for the first time in a long time, people who have understanding and compassion" will be firmly in charge of Congress, said another Californian, Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families.

'Main Voting Issues'

The shift in power "sets up a hell of a battle between the Administration and Congress," said Ronald W. Walters, political science professor at Howard University and adviser to the 1984 Jesse Jackson presidential campaign. "Education and social welfare are emerging as two of the main voting issues of 1988."

To be sure, revision of the laws that govern social services is expected to gain center stage during President Reagan's final years in office, now that action on tax and immigration laws has been completed. At the direction of the Administration, concrete social services proposals are being formulated by a presidential task force.

Legislative officials who have monitored the effort said it will generally follow the Administration's philosophy of providing block grants and vouchers to states, relinquishing more federal control over social programs to other jurisdictions and getting families off welfare through a variety of state-created "workfare" plans.

In contrast, many Democrats insist that the federal government should still have a dominant role in social programs, partly because they believe that many states cannot be trusted to fairly distribute funds to the needy.

Distinction Drawn

The Hawkins report draws the distinction between Democrats and the Administration in stark terms: "A strong federal role is recommended because the federal government has the power to redistribute national resources and promote the general welfare of all citizens."

But a senior Administration official, who asked not to be identified, said voters Tuesday did not "hand the social reform initiative" to Democrats. "I don't believe they will be successful in bringing about programs that send a message" contrary to Reagan's, the official said. "He still has the support of the American people."

Among the report's recommendations:

--Expand by 20% annually the $3.9-billion-a-year program providing remedial education to poor schoolchildren. It also calls for expanding the $1.1-billion Head Start program (which serves low-income children 3 to 5 years old) by 20% a year until it and the remedial education program serve all those needing them.

--Increase funding of the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children, which serves 3 million people, by 10% a year until it serves all those needing it.

--Expand by 10% annually bilingual education programs, which serve about 10% of the eligible 3.6 million students.

--Provide tax incentives to employers to provide child care for needy workers and increase federal day-care funds for the poor. Social activists have said the lack of adequate child care may be the greatest financial problem for single working parents because they cannot afford to pay child-care costs.

--Establish a federal "standby job creation program" that would provide public service jobs during times of high unemployment.

--Increase the minimum wage from its current $3.35 an hour.

Asked how the proposals would be funded, Hawkins said the defense budget, especially the Strategic Defense Initiative program, should be cut back.

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