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ORANGE COUNTY VOICES

Putting Welfare Back to Work

Gov. Wilson's plan penalizes irresponsible and self-destructive behavior and pushes recipients to find jobs.

June 22, 1997|DICK ACKERMAN | Assemblyman Dick Ackerman (R-Fullerton) represents the 72nd District, covering Anaheim Hills, Brea, Fullerton, La Habra, Placentia and Yorba Linda

The current welfare system is in need of reform. Republicans and Democrats alike agree. Congress and the president affirmed this by placing the states in charge of their own welfare programs.

In its 70-year history, the system has incurred enormous costs, sending the federal and state governments drastically over budget. It has woven a crippling cycle of dependency through generations of families. The consensus is that encouraging people to work will remedy these problems. Each state must structure a new welfare policy requiring its able-bodied recipients to seek employment.

New York, a state long afflicted by staggering welfare rolls, has risen to the challenge, successfully cutting its caseload by 18% in the last two years. At present, its rolls are falling through the floor at a rate of 10,000 per month. As a result, the state stands to enjoy a $250 million savings this year. The other success story of the nation is Wisconsin. It has provided an inspiring example for the other states to follow, slashing its welfare rolls by 53% in the last 10 years and almost 30% last year alone. The key to these states' effective programs is simple: No work, no welfare. New York and Wisconsin have replaced welfare with employment. It's time California followed suit.

Both Gov. Pete Wilson and the Democrats have presented welfare reform programs that purport to put people to work. Yet, not withstanding their similar intentions, only Wilson's proposal demonstrates any promise of fulfilling that purpose. The governor's plan, much like those of New York and Wisconsin, places a strict lifetime limit on aid to welfare recipients. Individuals may stay on aid for only five years, not exceeding 12 months per two-year period. Furthermore, they must begin a job search within 20 days.

With such clear incentives to work, the governor's plan speeds the transition from welfare to employment. The Democrats' plan lacks this incentive, allowing those "unable to find employment" to remain on aid indefinitely. Individuals are given three months to search for a job and up to five years to spend in job training, on top of a supposed five-year lifetime "limit."

Who will pay for all this aid? The cost of the Democrats' package exceeds the governor's by almost $1 billion in the first year alone. It stands to cost nearly $5 billion after three years. The Democrats want to maintain the present mandate requiring counties to pick up 70% of the cost of general assistance. Hardly a reform measure, their "welfare-to-work" plan should more aptly be called the "welfare-to-welfare" plan. Wilson's plan, on the other hand, promises to significantly overhaul California's welfare system. It makes general assistance a county-optional program, issuing counties block grants to meet their individual needs.

Regardless of which proposal is eventually adopted, large counties like Orange will be greatly affected. Presently, 25% of the state's AFDC recipients are newcomers to California. That percentage increases to 74% for those on general assistance.

Under the Democrats' plan, once all of those people are no longer eligible for state assistance, they automatically move to county general assistance rolls.

As California's population grows, places like Orange County will become magnets for welfare recipients. The county will have to hire new government employees and expand its welfare programs. Along with virtually absent work incentives, such exorbitant cost impositions conspire to bankrupt California's counties.

Besides decreased cost, eligibility standards for aid are another valuable aspect of the governor's reform package. For parents to receive aid, they must cooperate in establishing paternity, including child support, and their children have to be enrolled in school. Furthermore, failure to complete a county program due to substance abuse is penalized with a great reduction. No such responsibilities are required of welfare recipients under the Democrats' plan. Individuals are not held accountable.

The value of the governor's proposal becomes readily apparent. Furthermore, in penalizing self-destructive and irresponsible behavior, Wilson's program arguably accomplishes another goal, one more fundamental to the mission of government at its core. It lays the foundation for a population consisting of responsible, productive, contributing members of society. It encourages communal effort, inviting everyone to benefit from everyone's work.

A community based on hard work as well as mutual contribution and benefit for its members--this is something California must have.

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