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Clinton, Dole Announce Competing Welfare Plans : Reform: President tentatively OKs California's 'family cap' program. Senator backs 'block grant' approach.

August 01, 1995|PAUL RICHTER and ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BURLINGTON, Vt. — President Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole pushed their competing versions of welfare reform before the nation's governors Monday as Clinton announced tentative approval for California to cap the amount of money welfare families can receive for additional children.

Clinton's announcement, made in a speech to the National Governors Assn. convention here where Dole also spoke, came with a package of changes in federal welfare regulations, all designed as examples of the new flexibility the President says his Administration has brought to federal relations with the states. If states are willing to take full advantage of that flexibility, "we would begin to change welfare fundamentally" and permanently, Clinton said.

The competing speeches by Clinton and Dole came as Republican senators resolved a major issue that had threatened to block Senate action on welfare reform legislation. The new agreement on a formula to govern federal welfare expenditures would provide extra money to low-benefit, high-growth states such as Texas and Arizona, but would leave California and major northeastern states vulnerable if their welfare populations grow beyond current levels.

With that issue apparently resolved--at least among the majority Republicans--the way appears to be clear for the Senate to begin debate later this week on the welfare bill, which has been stalled in the chamber for most of the summer. The debate could be prolonged, however, as several bitter disputes remain between Democrats and Republicans and between the more conservative and less conservative wings of the GOP.

The dispute among Republicans in the Senate centers on differences between a proposal backed by Dole (R-Kan.) and one pushed by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), one of Dole's rivals for the GOP presidential nomination.

Dole's plan, which he outlined for the governors, would give states almost unlimited leeway to determine welfare eligibility and shape other features of their social programs. Dole said his proposal would convert federal child care, job training and Aid to Families With Dependent Children into single "block grant" programs under which states would receive lump sums that they would be largely free to disburse to the poor without regulation from Washington. Under Dole's proposal, the states could also choose to receive food stamp money through the same system.

Gramm's proposal, backed by 26 of the Senate's most conservative members, would also employ block grants. But while Dole would allow states to do largely as they please, Gramm would require the states to adopt several conservative proposals that he argues would attack the problem of out-of-wedlock births. His plan would also shift authority over more of the major federal anti-poverty programs than would Dole's plan.

The Gramm plan would prevent states from giving cash benefits to mothers younger than 18 who have babies out of wedlock and would prevent states from increasing the size of a welfare check for families who have additional babies while on the welfare rolls. That provision, the so-called family cap would become part of California's welfare rules under the proposal Clinton said Washington planned to approve.

Clinton's speech, meanwhile, was part of a White House attempt to gain greater influence over congressional negotiations, or, failing that, to at least lay the groundwork for a veto if the final congressional bill is unacceptable.

Aiming to prove that his Administration is still committed to "end welfare as we know it," Clinton announced new regulations that will enable states to halt additional food stamp spending for welfare recipients who have refused to go to work.

And he offered plans to shorten from 120 days to 30 days the time the federal government takes to approve state requests to experiment with certain new welfare programs.

Clearly looking for common ground, Clinton praised Dole's proposal to offer the states wide latitude to design their own welfare programs, without the harsh rules favored by conservatives to hold down out-of-wedlock births and force beneficiaries off welfare.

Dole's plan for "getting rid of ideological strings" is "a very good start for us to work together," Clinton said.

But he sharply criticized Dole's suggestion that states not be required to put up their own money toward welfare programs. That was a "very bad idea," he said that could leave many families in distress in the event of a recession or other state fiscal crisis.

Dole used Clinton as a foil, reminding the governors that the President has worried that turning social program funds to lump payments would set off a "race to the bottom" in which states competed with each other in making the deepest social service cuts.

"I wonder which states he think would participate in such a race," Dole said. "Which states does he believe cannot be trusted with welfare, education and protection of their people?"

Richter reported from Burlington and Shogren from Washington.

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