The Times has invited the two leading candidates in the hotly contested race for Congress in the 24th District, which includes the southwest San Fernando Valley, to write on several issues before the election.
Incumbent Democrat Anthony Beilenson has been a congressman since 1977. Republican Rich Sybert was state director of planning and research from 1991 to 1993.
For this article they were asked whether Congress should, in President Clinton's phrase, "end welfare as we know it."
Welfare represents everything that's wrong with big government. At enormous cost, it traps the poor in generations of poverty, discourages hard work and individual responsibility and punishes both taxpayers and the people whom it is supposed to help. It nourishes bureaucracy, invites fraud and rewards the illegal.
With the best of intentions, our present welfare system destroys personal initiative and self-discipline. We effectively encourage people not to take entry-level jobs (and incidentally thus provide a large part of the incentive for illegal immigration) because they can make more by staying at home. We reward behavior that is antisocial and self-destructive.
Worst of all, welfare hurts children, by bringing them into an environment that will not nurture them. Welfare effectively subsidizes teen-age illegitimacy by providing support and being a ticket to financial independence. In 1970, births to unmarried U.S. women comprised 10% of the total. In 1991, after two decades of expansion of the welfare state, the figure was 30%.
A record 5 million families, with almost 10 million children, were on the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in May, 1993, an almost 50% increase in only five years. One child in eight in the United States is on AFDC, with the vast majority (92% in 1990) without a father in the home. There is virtually no work requirement. In 1992 total spending on social-welfare programs rose to $277 billion--almost 5% of the nation's gross national product.
The absence of a stable home and family, not race or poverty, is the major factor in rising crime rates, especially juvenile crime. We are, to be blunt, raising successive welfare generations who, deprived of the upbringing that every child ought to have, are taking their toll on our schools, our streets, our society and ultimately on themselves.
We must encourage responsible behavior by parents to help them and their children succeed. Our laws and social programs should instill the values of hard work and discipline. Yet welfare fosters habits and values that instill antisocial and sometimes even criminal behavior. It has trapped people into a culture of welfare dependency. Even the rioting in Los Angeles in 1992 stopped on Monday so people could collect their welfare checks (the U.S. Postal Service had refused to deliver mail); then it resumed.
Welfare recipients should at least do community service for their benefits. This tells people: "You can make a contribution. We think you're worth something." As long as there is one piece of litter on public streets, or a single wall of graffiti, the poor should work in exchange for public assistance, toward the end that they get in the habit of working. Only then will we break welfare psychology.
Discussions about welfare almost always focus on the recipients. We should also think about the donors, the taxpayers. It is unfair to the hard-working families of America to tax them to finance an inefficient bureaucracy (only about 35 cents of each welfare dollar actually makes its way to recipients; the remainder is eaten up in "administration") and reward less responsible behavior with "entitlements."
Unfortunately, the "welfare reform" plan proposed by the Clinton Administration does very little to change any of this. The work requirements would not apply to 80% of the caseload, mothers born before 1972. The plan in fact repeals the current requirement that at least one parent work in two-parent families.
No one would have aid cut off or even reduced. Instead, after two years some recipients would be required to go into a government make-work program. Teen mothers would continue to receive payments for having additional children out of wedlock, and non-citizens would continue to be eligible. There would be no caps on welfare spending, which in fact would continue to rise.
I favor real reform that shatters the destructive welfare mentality. Recipients should be required to work or, if they can't find a job, do community service. Mothers should establish paternity before receiving benefits. Benefits should be denied to teen-age mothers unless they complete their education, and no additional benefits should be paid for more children born to recipients. Non-citizens should not be eligible. A reasonable cap should be put on overall growth in welfare spending.
States should have greater flexibility to devise their own systems. Welfare levels in California are two to three times those of many other states, such as Texas, Arizona and Nevada. Yet federal regulation forbids us from reducing them to competitive levels. Our higher taxes place California at a disadvantage in attracting jobs and businesses, and the benefits probably attract more recipients.
We can change the way we are doing things. We need to get rid of the career politicians who have put this system in place and start again. Real welfare reform can go a long way toward changing behavior and improving the future. All it takes is common sense and the political courage to stand up and say it.