Point-Counterpoint : AT ISSUE: Is Arkansas’ Welfare System Worse Under Clinton?

The Charge: The Bush campaign said on Friday that Gov. Bill Clinton “has made grand, false claims about the ineffective Arkansas welfare program he supervises. . . . After Clinton’s 12 years in office, Arkansas now suffers a state-welfare bureaucracy whose administrative costs have ballooned by 3,000% since 1983, and poverty that places the state at or near the bottom of the country in nearly every meaningful category. A full 19.8% of all Arkansas residents live below the poverty line--up from 19% in 1980.”

The Response: The Clinton campaign contends that despite a slight increase in the poverty rate in Arkansas, the state compares favorably to surrounding states. “In the last decade, Texas had an increase (in poverty) of 12.2%, Oklahoma 13.3% and Louisiana 26.3%. The numbers are a testimony to our ability to hold the line on poverty,” the campaign said. From 1981 to 1992, the state welfare budget increased 200%, the campaign reported. Clinton said Friday that Arkansas was one of the first states to attempt welfare reform and “since then we’ve had good success moving people from welfare to work.” He said that in 1989, ’90, and ’91, the welfare case load grew at a slower place in Arkansas than the national average.

Analysis: President Bush has emphasized calls for welfare reform in his campaign but hasn’t been able to generate as many sparks as some Republicans had hoped. That’s partly because Clinton has proposed that all welfare recipients be required to work after two years, a more specific requirement than the Administration has put forward. Bush advisers may be hoping to undermine Clinton’s credentials as a welfare reformer by questioning his record in Arkansas. But Clinton’s Arkansas work-to-welfare plans received generally good marks in an independent evaluation from the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., the leading analyst of state welfare plans.