WASHINGTON — The association of state welfare administrators Tuesday endorsed President Clinton's call for a two-year time limit on welfare but warned that states will resist paying much of the cost for reforming the public assistance system.
In what several observers called a sign of widening consensus, the American Public Welfare Assn. endorsed many of the ideas under consideration by the Administration's internal welfare reform task force, including the central recommendation that most welfare recipients be required to accept work after two years on the rolls.
"It's a strong sign that the states want serious welfare reform," says White House policy aide Bruce Reed, co-chairman of the Administration's welfare reform group.
But the state welfare association, in a report, said that states should be required to pick up only 10% of the expense of moving to such a work-based system--which it estimated could cost more than $15 billion over the next five years. The distribution of costs between the states and the federal government will be "a crucial issue," in the welfare reform debate, said Sid Johnson, the APWA's executive director.
On many issues, the group's recommendations track the proposals contained in the working paper completed last month by the Administration's task force on welfare reform. The President has not yet reviewed the recommendations and the White House has signaled repeatedly in recent weeks that it may delay the introduction of a welfare reform bill to avoid conflict with the pending health care reform legislation.
Like the Administration task force, the APWA called for granting states greater flexibility to conduct experiments in welfare reform, stepped-up efforts to collect child support payments and a shift in the focus of welfare offices toward seeking work for recipients "from the very beginning of their receipt" of public assistance. The report also calls for phasing in the work requirement by imposing it first on new recipients and guaranteeing welfare recipients public employment if private work is not available.
The support for a mandatory work requirement represents a significant evolution in the state welfare administrators' views, observers said.
"It's a statement that a system that has been consumed with determining and maintaining eligibility should shift its focus to supporting and providing work," said Mark Greenberg, a staff attorney at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington.
For all the agreement, the report also highlighted some of the likely areas of contention once the welfare reform debate begins.