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Guide to Welfare Reform

January 04, 1987

More than 90 organizations, many of them distinguished by their long-term commitment to helping the poor and disadvantaged, have agreed on a statement of principles on welfare reform that is an appropriate guideline for the forthcoming debate both in the White House and in Congress.

The principles are based on facts that demonstrate the urgency of reform:

--About 13 million children, one in every five, were living in families with incomes below the poverty line in 1985, and there almost certainly are more now.

--Most people on welfare want work, but entry-level wages and the national minimum wage are too low to support a family.

This led the coalition on reform to emphasize work as never before.

"Welfare reform initiatives must begin with an investment in people and an expansion of job opportunities," they affirmed. "Programs available to welfare recipients should offer a menu of job counseling, training, education and literacy assistance, job creation, job placement and supportive services designed to match needs of the individuals targeted for service."

These are principles being put to practice in the California reform package that holds great promise for helping welfare families break out of poverty.

The federal government must continue to play a central role and to provide the principal source of revenue "to assure that all needy Americans have access to adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care and employment opportunity," it is stated. That makes sense. But the concept may not sit well with President Reagan, who has indicated in the past a determination to minimize the federal role.

Financial resources will certainly be at the heart of the discussion at all levels, given the commitment of both the President and Congress to reduce the deficit in the budget. The President's stubborn rejection of increased taxes could jeopardize authentic reform, and other essential services in the health field. But the realization is dawning among congressional leaders that penny-pinching may produce attractive budget results in the near term but assures compounded problems in the long term.

It cannot be beyond the competence of the American government to contrive a welfare system that makes the most of the nation's most important resource, its people--all of its people--facilitating their participation in meaningful employment while assuring a minimum standard of living. These principles will encourage the search for that sort of solution.

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