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Reagan Administration's Proposal for Welfare

November 22, 1986

Robert Kuttner criticizes the Reagan Administration for its proposed welfare reforms in his article (Editorial Pages, Nov. 3), "A New, Cynical Assault on the Poor." He purports that the federal government will eliminate all social safety-net programs and establish in their place one comprehensive cash-transfer program. While he totally concerns himself with the prospect of a decrease in funds allocated to the welfare state, he fails to analyze the benefits of such a program.

The cash-transfer reforms would empower the poor to make decisions regarding their own lives and their own welfare. Liberals argue that they want to provide the poor and disadvantaged with self-respect, but at the same time they are reluctant to allow the poor and disadvantaged to make their own decisions. In fact, some public officials have assumed that individuals with incomes below the official poverty line are unable to make their own decisions while those with incomes above the poverty line are able to make their own decisions.

The current welfare state, based on such an assumption, does not employ the poor but instead keeps them dependent on government assistance. Accordingly, the restrictive categorical grant system of funding the welfare state allows legislators and bureaucrats to control the lives of individual citizens.

A cash payments-based welfare state would require that people accept responsibility for the daily conduct of their own lives rather than relying on the state to make decisions regarding housing, food, medical expenses, etc. Accordingly, people would also accept the responsibility for their success or failure. The self-respect attained by accepting this responsibility and being able to make one's own decisions is a major step in moving welfare recipients back into the mainstream of the working world. Furthermore, the ability to make these decisions provides a sense of self-worth, which motivates continued achievement and independence.

Kuttner's article is the traditional liberal response that you cannot solve the needs of individuals without committing ever-increasing resources to the welfare state. Instead, the cash-payments proposal empowers people to make their own decisions, to become active members of society, and to gain self-respect. The proposal rejects the notion that only public officials know what is best for the poor and acknowledges the right of individuals' to accept responsibility for their own decisions.

ANTHONY RUSSO

La Mirada

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