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What Isn't Being Said about
the Welfare Reform Debate

After spending 3 trillion dollars on national defense in the '80s, the U.S. is about to punish the poor as Democrats and Republicans alike ensure the demise of 'welfare as we know it'.

Dominating this 'debate' has been the voices of reform. The media has given a virtual monopoly of expression to middle class, male conservatives like Governors William Weld (R., Mass.) and Tommy Thompson (R., Wisc.); newspaper writers Charles Krauthammer and George Will; former education secretary William Bennett and former housing secretary Jack Kemp; radio and television demagogue Rush Limbaugh, and sociologist Charles Murray, author of the 1984 book, Losing Ground. The latter publication is widely considered to have started this movement; it is where Murray first advanced his theory that if "single mothers and their children tend to be poor, society must not encourage them by alleviating their suffering," (Ruth Conniff, The Progressive, 8/94).

Eric Pianin's analysis on the issue for theWashington Post (7/31/94) seems typical of how the media is covering it: "Surveys and informal soundings have revealed widespread public sentiment for radical changes in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and other costly welfare programs that have done little to break the cycle of poverty and have fostered generations of families dependent on the government."

Pianin's text illustrates that the media has largely taken for granted two things the reformers say: 1) that AFDC is costly, and 2) that welfare creates a cycle of poverty. The first assumption is the very biggest lie being told about AFDC.

Nine million American children receive AFDC, and two-thirds of AFDC recipients are children. AFDC protects poor children from hunger and homelessness, says David Kass of the Children's Defense Fund. (Coniff, The Progressive, 8/94). It costs $15 billion, which represents 1 per cent of the Federal budget. Even if the conservatives are right, and that it is a handout to people who do not intend to work, AFDC is an option over placing millions of children in orphanages, or letting them starve.

As welfare is concerned, AFDC is a cheap form of it. In fact, the most costly form of welfare is the kind that seldom makes the headlines. This is corporate welfare; i.e., the handouts our government makes to the extremely rich. For instance, the subsidies for agribusiness in 1994 will cost $29.2 billion alone (James P. Donahue, The Washington Post, 3/6/94).

Also, the S&L bailout--necessary because of the greatest bank robbery of all time, committed by unscrupulous bank executives during the Reagan-Bush era--is costing twice what AFDC is.

The belief that AFDC needs to be reformed because it is expensive is untrue. This is because however it is tinkered with AFDC will still be significantly more costly than it is now. In the President's plan, two years of job training will be offered for people on AFDC, and additional day-care and health-care benefits after that to help them go to work. Those who don't find jobs on their own after two years would have to join a work program comprised of Government-subsidized jobs.

The money to fund the 'deficit-neutral' Clinton plan would come entirely from other emergency support programs for the indigent. As Mark Greenberg of the Center for Law and Social Policy puts it, it will cut "homeless assistance in order to fund an increase in welfare administration costs, and in order to increase the number of case managers," (Conniff, the Progressive, 8/94). In other words, the plan involves a net transfer of funds from poor people to bureaucrats to watch them.

Stephanie Mencimer, writing for the Washington Post (1/9/94), has another idea that the media rarely mentions. She says we should leave AFDC alone and go back to having the federal government fund abortions for the poor:

Between 1980 and 1990, federal spending on family planning plummeted by a third in inflation-adjusted dollars...In the District, an abortion performed at a no-frills clinic averages $265--that's half the rent for some poor women, or twice the monthly budget for food. And they can't rely on the government to cover that bill. In the mid-'70s, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois sponsored an appropriations rider that banned the use of federal funds for poor women's abortions. After the amendment took effect in 1978, the number of federally funded abortions dropped from 294,600 in 1977 to 165 in 1990--financing permitted because the mothers' lives were in danger.

...Thus, if Clinton really wants to "end welfare as we know it," as he has said, his smartest step might be to work to repeal the Hyde amendment--a move likely to have a far larger effect on welfare rolls than the kind of expensive, low-results welfare-to-work programs so celebrated lately.

...In the cold cost-benefit analysis, publicly financed abortion makes a lot of sense. For every tax dollar spent on abortions for poor women, the public saves at least four dollars in public medical and welfare expenditures in the first two years of the child's life alone. If abortions were fully funded in every state, the Guttmacher Institute [a research group] estimates that the net savings for the nation as a whole over a two-year period would total between $435 and $540 million...


Another assertion welfare reformers make that's often accepted as gospel by the media is that welfare spawns a cycle of dependency. Many studies suggest otherwise. According to David Corn: "Welfare experts know that contrary to political myth, birthrates for welfare beneficiaries are not high. They also estimate that more than 50% of recipients work part time or periodically and that 70 percent are off welfare after eleven months," (The Nation, 6/20/94).

So what will welfare be like when it is reformed? If the Clinton plan--or worse--is enacted, parents on welfare who are unable to find a job after two years must somehow get a position that pays more than does child care. This, writes Ruth Conniff, will not be easy: "The average AFDC recipient who gets a full-time job through [Wisconsin's] Dane County's JOBS program makes $6.74 an hour--about $14,000 a year. Day care for two children can easily cost $12,000 a year in Dane County. It doesn't take a math genius to figure out the jam that program participants are in. Yet the government is heavily invested in trying to convince them to go to work anyway," (The Progressive, 8/94).

As bad as Clinton's program is, it still doesn't go far enough for the opposition party. In particular, presidential hopefuls William Bennett and Jack Kemp have aired radio ads that decry Clinton because his plan fails to cut off public assistance entirely to unmarried mothers under 21! (The Washington Post, 6/27/94).

Unless welfare advocates speak up, people like Charles Murray (co-author of The Bell Curve) will continue to dominate the discussion. Speaking before the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, Murray seemed to be indicating his willingness to play God with social engineering: "the act of getting pregnant if you are not prepared to care for a child is not morally neutral, it is a very destructive act. And much as we may sympathize with a young woman who finds herself in that situation...part of arranging society so that it happens as seldom as possible is to impose terrible penalties on that act." (Conniff, the Progressive, 8/94).

The mainstream media has covered the welfare debate very poorly. The fact our elected officials are moving to upset the lives of millions of children by changing AFDC should convince some the importance of considering the alternative presses for information regarding the issues of the day.

Scott Loughrey

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