Issuing a harsh critique of the Republican welfare initiative, state welfare administrators Monday denounced provisions that would limit benefits to unmarried teen-age mothers, legal immigrants and long-term recipients of public assistance.
The resolutions unanimously adopted by directors of state welfare systems during their annual meeting here shows that they have major reservations about the Republican blueprint for welfare reform.
The administrators were in a hurry to advance their position because the House Ways and Means Committee today launches its debate on the primary elements of the welfare reform proposal.
"We're the people who have to run these programs," said Gerald Miller, director of Michigan's welfare department and president of the American Public Welfare Assn., which was meeting here. "We wanted to be a major player" in the overhaul of the welfare system for poor families, he said.
The GOP measure, which was passed by a subcommittee earlier this month, would forge the most dramatic changes in the safety net for poor families in 50 years.
A spokesman for Ways and Means said that the GOP proposal represents a revolutionary transfer of power to the states and the administrators' complaints echo governors' unrealistic demands for federal dollars with no strings attached.
"What the Republican welfare bill does is remove hundreds of pounds of federal regulations and replace them with a few ounces," said Ari Fleisher of the committee's staff. "The governors and their welfare administrators want us to take away the ounces as well. We cannot do that. In return for accepting billions of tax dollars, there will remain very few requirements that we view as pro-family, pro-personal responsibility and pro-work."
The administrators, however, argued that they have nothing against the federal government establishing broad national goals for welfare reform and requiring states to make progress toward achieving them. Reducing out-of-wedlock births, especially among teen-agers, and moving individuals from welfare to work, for instance, are two goals that all states share. They resist, however, being told what methods to use to obtain those goals.
The welfare administrators said that they objected to nine directives to states listed in the GOP's proposed cash welfare program, which would replace Aid to Families With Dependent Children.
Included in the list are measures that would ban states from using federal dollars to provide assistance to legal immigrants who have not become citizens, unmarried mothers under 18 and their babies, and families in which the paternity of the child is not established. The administrators also said that they oppose provisions that would force them to limit cash benefits to no more than five years over a lifetime and force many recipients to work for their benefits after receiving them for two years.
"We are opposing each and every one of the mandates," said Gary Stangler, head of Missouri's Department of Social Services and chairman of the national council of state human service administrators, the policy-making arm of the Public Welfare Assn. "We'll fight them as hard as we can."
The administrators also said that the GOP plan does not provide an adequate mechanism for increasing funding to states in emergencies, such as if their welfare caseloads should grow because of recession or natural disaster.
While the administrators showed impressive unanimity, Stangler, who works for a Democratic governor, and Miller, who works for a Republican governor, both conceded that none of their points of disagreement represent "a drop dead" issue that would force their governors to oppose the welfare reform package in the end.
Despite the unanimous vote, Miller confided later that there is "enough flexibility in the bill" to make it acceptable, although he said that he was speaking as a Republican and Michigan's welfare director, not for the welfare group.
Late last week, Republicans decided to drop one of the most contentious aspects of their welfare reform proposal: ending the national food stamp program. That provision would have ended the individual entitlement status of the program so that every eligible person would no longer be guaranteed food stamps. Under the original GOP proposal, the states would have been given a federal grant with the flexibility to run their own food program for the poor.
The proposal was shelved because of heavy lobbying against it by food producers and anti-hunger advocates. Stangler said that he and other Democrats greeted with enthusiasm the news that food stamps were no longer a target.