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N.J. Ends Welfare Increase Given for Each New Child : Public aid: New laws also would cut or deny funds for any person who refuses education or job training.

January 22, 1992|DAVID TREADWELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — In a move that supporters called pro-family but critics decried as punitive, New Jersey on Tuesday became the first state to adopt laws denying additional benefits to welfare mothers who continue to have children while on government rolls.

Under a sweeping package of welfare revisions signed with great fanfare by New Jersey's Democratic Gov. James J. Florio, the state will no longer pay the current $64 monthly increase for each additional child to women who have more babies after they begin to draw welfare payments.

The state's new welfare laws also call for welfare recipients--men and women--who refuse to take part in educational or job-training programs to lose all or part of their benefits. Only mothers with children under 2 years old are exempted.

"This legislation is guided by compassion and crafted in common sense," Florio said at a signing ceremony in the southern New Jersey community of Pennsauken. "We want to rebuild New Jersey's families and replace the hopelessness of welfare dependency with the hope of self-reliance."

But critics described the abolition of grants for additional children as unduly harsh and expressed fear that the laws here will fuel what they see as a dangerous national trend. They also predicted that the approach will backfire in its intended goal to foster stronger welfare families.

"Throughout the country, it's becoming politically correct for politicians to speak ill of and look down on welfare recipients," said Regina Purcell, associate director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference. "Unfortunately, bills like the one signed today feed into negative misperceptions of people on welfare."

Statistically, she said, the average welfare family in New Jersey has 1.9 children, fewer than the average American family.

"The reality is, women sometimes have unplanned pregnancies or are the victims of rape and incest," she said. "Through this bill, our government is telling these women that, if you become irresponsible and become pregnant, we will not help you support your children but we will pay for it to be aborted."

New Jersey's new welfare provisions are set to take effect July 1. However, provisions such as the ban on payments for additional children require a federal waiver before they can be implemented. Opponents said they would fight the laws in court and would hope to persuade the federal government, a major supplier of welfare monies, to reject them.

Across the nation, welfare programs and recipients increasingly have become targets of politicians and state officials fretting over soaring state budget deficits and mounting taxpayer resentment at the cost of social programs.

In Louisiana, David Duke, a onetime Ku Klux Klan leader and fervent Nazi sympathizer, recently made dramatic welfare cutbacks a centerpiece of his vigorous, if ultimately unsuccessful, maverick Republican campaign for governor. In Michigan, lawmakers abolished the state's $247-million general assistance program for people who do not qualify for federally financed welfare aid. The move stopped payments last October to more than 83,000 single adults.

In California, Gov. Pete Wilson has been considering a number of controversial welfare reforms as a way to help plug the state's widening budget gap. Under one proposal, some welfare families' benefits would be cut by as much as 25%.

Backers of New Jersey's new welfare laws contend that the measures will allow welfare recipients to reduce their dependency on government subsidies and to gain more control over their lives.

Although the laws would deny the current $64 monthly increase for an additional child, they do permit women to work and earn up to 50% more than their total grant without relinquishing any benefits.

A welfare mother with two children now receives $424 a month, half of which is financed by the state and the other half by the federal government.

Another provision of the new law permits mothers to marry and, under certain circumstances, to retain government benefits for their dependent children.

"Our children need the guidance of a strong family and the tools of education to help them compete," Florio said.

Assemblyman Wayne Bryant, a powerful black lawmaker who sponsored the six-part welfare reform package in the Legislature, said he envisioned the package as a way to help blacks get off welfare.

Although they make up about 13% of New Jersey's population, blacks account for more than 30% of the state's 110,000 welfare families.

Researcher Audrey Britton in New York contributed to this story.

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