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Wilson Offers Concessions to Preserve Cuts in Welfare

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Pete Wilson on Friday sought to preserve recent cuts in welfare benefits by offering to exempt disabled recipients and certain categories of children in order to satisfy court objections.

In a formal request to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, Wilson asked the Clinton Administration to endorse the cuts and the exemptions as soon as possible “to allow us to continue our comprehensive welfare reforms.”

Wilson’s plan would create a two-tiered benefit system for welfare families in California and for the first time permit certain classes of recipients to receive more money than others.

Under the new system, most families with three eligible welfare recipients would be entitled to a maximum monthly grant of $594. But families of three that include a disabled adult would be given a higher amount--$633 a month.

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Likewise, a single child on welfare who is entitled to an exemption would be able to collect a maximum monthly benefit of $311. Those not eligible for the exemption--such as the child of illegal immigrants--would get $293.

Shalala has said that she is likely to give the state authorization for the cuts, but she has also indicated that she may ask for revisions.

California Department of Social Services officials estimated that the new exemptions would affect about 80,000 families, or 8.4% of the state’s Aid for Families With Dependent Children caseload. They asked that they be allowed to make the changes effective Sept. 1.

They said the exemptions would increase welfare costs for the state and federal government by about $30 million a year.

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Wilson, who has made a restructuring of the welfare system a theme of his reelection campaign, urged the Clinton Administration to act quickly on California’s request.

“The (Clinton Administration) has a choice to encourage states in their bold and innovative reforms, or to further tighten the screws that trap millions in a lifetime of welfare dependency,” he wrote Shalala.

Wilson’s appeal for the federal approval of a new benefit system came three days after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his request that it reconsider a decision that invalidated across-the-board welfare reductions.

In July, a three-member panel of the court ruled that a 1.3% welfare cut that the state put into effect in 1992 should not have been approved by the federal government. It said the George Bush Administration had violated federal law when it endorsed the cut because it had failed to consider the effect the reductions would have on poor families.

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The court said although California had argued that the cuts would serve as an incentive for recipients to go to work, the appellate panel failed to see how it could be any incentive for those who were disabled or for children.

In requesting new authorization from the Clinton Administration, Wilson sought to remove the court’s objections by exempting the disabled and certain categories of children from the 1992 cut and two more cuts in 1993 and 1994. Wilson did not offer to make refunds.

But Claire Pastore, an attorney for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said the state had so narrowly defined those who would be exempt that she did not believe it had resolved the court’s concerns.

The proposal defines as disabled only those families in which an adult has been designated to receive Social Security benefits because of an inability to work. The other exemptions apply to child-only cases--those in which only the children in a family are eligible for aid. However, Wilson does not propose to exempt the so-called citizen children, those whose parents are illegal immigrants.

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“They (the state) would like to pretend the 9th Circuit only has a problem with disabled and child-only cases, but the 9th Circuit had a much broader problem,” Pastore said.

“The court was very concerned about whether the (Bush Administration), keeping in mind the purpose of AFDC is to feed and house low-income children, had adequately considered the effect of the cuts on children and on everybody who could not get work.”

Pastore said the state had exempted large numbers of families from its mandatory job training program because it found them unable to work. She said those families also should be exempted from the cuts.


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