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Wilson Again Seeks Sharp Welfare Cuts to Make Ends Meet : Finances: His proposal would hit hard at the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program. Advocates for the young and the poor assail the plan.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Undeterred by the defeat of a ballot initiative that mandated drastic cuts in welfare benefits, Gov. Pete Wilson recycled the proposal Friday in his 1993 spending plan calling for steep reductions in government aid to the poor.

Wilson again asked for severe reductions in the cash grants that support 831,420 poor families under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program, the largest welfare program.

In a proposal nearly identical to his failed Proposition 165, the governor called for an immediate 4.2% cut in welfare grants, to be followed six months later by another 15% reduction for those families that include an able-bodied adult.

The twin cuts would trim the monthly cash grant for an average family of three from $624 to $507, moving California’s benefits from fifth highest in the nation to 12th. The magnitude of the cuts would be tempered somewhat by an automatic increase in food stamps for most families.

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“The state’s back is up against the wall financially,” said Department of Social Services Director Eloise Anderson. “Clearly we need to make cuts. That’s not something we want to do. That’s something we have to do.”

Other themes borrowed from Proposition 165 included the governor’s proposal to deny assistance to children who are born to mothers on welfare--an idea that has drawn criticism from anti-abortion groups--and his plan to allow teen-age mothers to be eligible for benefits only if they live at home with a parent.

The budget proposal said that both ideas would “serve to discourage minor children from becoming pregnant in order to seek economic independence.”

Anderson said the Administration believes the cuts, coupled with proposed changes in the state’s work-training program, were designed to reform the welfare system by encouraging poor parents to get off public assistance and go to work.

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To that end, she said the governor’s plan calls for an expansion and restructuring of GAIN (Greater Avenues for Independence), the state’s work-training program, with greater emphasis on short-term job training and less on long-term basic education.

Wilson proposed increasing state funding for GAIN by $25.9 million, a move that would make it eligible for an additional $43.5 million in federal funds.

Anderson said the additional money would allow the program to increase the number of families that could receive job training services by about 80%.

The proposals drew the expected reaction from advocates for children and the poor, who contended that the governor was not only ignoring the decision of the voters who defeated Proposition 165, but targeting the neediest in the state for some of his heaviest cuts.

“It’s just an outrage that he would flout the will of the people by reintroducing a proposal that was rejected by 54% of the electorate,” said Casey McKeever, directing attorney for the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “It will inflict harm on a very vulnerable and politically weak population.”

Ed Lazere, research analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the 19% welfare cut--if approved--would be one of the largest welfare reductions enacted in the last decade.

In raw numbers, California’s benefits would still be 12th highest in the nation, but Lazere said his research has shown that when cost of living is factored in, the cuts would bring the state’s ranking to 26th in the nation.

“It’s pretty clear that a benefit cut of this magnitude would wreak havoc on poor families,” he said. “It would bring the benefits below what many of them now pay for rent and simply force these people out on the streets.”

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Lazere warned that the 19% cut would require approval from the federal government, and he questioned whether the Clinton Administration would be as willing to approve drastic welfare cuts as the Bush Administration has been.

Late last year the Bush Administration approved a 5.8% cut in California welfare benefits that had been passed by the 1992 Legislature and signed by the governor.

While there is little question that the GAIN program needed to be expanded, Wendy Lazarus, vice president for policy for the advocacy group Children Now, characterized the proposed $25-million increase as “a drop in the bucket.”

She said the program now is only able to serve 29% of those eligible, and even with the increase, it will not reach a majority of those it should serve.

“It’s (the increase) very cosmetic,” she said.

Anderson did not dispute Lazarus’ figures, but she said they did not take into account the fact that about 30,000 families get on and off welfare very quickly as they move back into the work force. She said the adults in those families would not need the GAIN program even though they would be counted as being eligible for it.

How California Compares

If Gov. Pete Wilson’s proposal for a reduction of up to 19% in the basic welfare grant is approved by the Legislature, California’s welfare rate will drop from the fifth highest in the nation to 12th. Here are the basic monthly cash grants for a family of three in the 12 highest states. STATE: MONTHLY GRANT 1. Alaska: $950 2. Hawaii: $693 3. Connecticut*: $680 4. Vermont*: $659 5. California (current): $624 6. Massachusetts: $579 7. New York**: $577 8. Rhode Island: $554 9. Washington: $546 10. Minnesota: $532 11. Wisconsin: $517 12. New Hampshire: $516 12. California (proposed): $507 * Vermont and Connecticut have varying rates. These are the highest.

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** New York has varying rates. This is the rate for New York City.

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, D.C.


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