GOP split over welfare money reallocation plan: USA FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 17 Mar 1999 18:02:05 -0800 (PST)


http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/1999/03/17/national021
1EST0465.DTL&type=printable
FWD
       GOP SPLIT OVER PLANS TO REALLOCATE WELFARE MONEY
       LAURA MECKLER, Associated Press Writer
       Wednesday, March 17, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) -- With welfare rolls at a 30-year low, billions of dollars
in welfare money has yet to be spent, prompting some in Congress to covet
the money for other priorities.

       It's a prospect that has governors and many of the architects of the
1996 welfare overhaul angry, fearing they will never be able to turn
domestic programs over to the states if Congress turns its back on the
welfare deal.

       Under the 1996 law, $16.5 billion is put in federal accounts each
year earmarked for states. Many states have saved the money in case the
economy slows down, and many say it will be needed to provide more
intensive services for welfare recipients who need the most help getting
off welfare.

       ``There is no question that the Congress made a pledge, a promise,''
Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, said Tuesday. ``How can you
ever be trusted again if on such a serious issue as this you give your word
and give your pledge, and then you go back on it?''

       House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R-Texas, noted
that states are just beginning to work with welfare recipients who have the
most barriers to self-sufficiency.

       ``As state legislatures confront the toughest challenges of welfare
reform, Congress is proposing to pull the rug from under them,'' Archer
wrote to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

       Americans have left the welfare rolls more quickly than anyone
predicted, propelled by a strong economy that helped people find jobs and
tougher rules that discouraged them from staying on the dole.

       With fewer people on welfare, there are fewer benefit checks to
write. But the amount the federal government is giving the states was based
on earlier years when caseloads were much higher.

       At the end of September, after two years under the new system, more
than $3 billion promised to the states was sitting unused in federal
accounts.

       In the Senate, an emergency spending bill would use $350 million of
that money. And in the House, a Republican instrumental in crafting the
1996 welfare law wants to let states use their welfare money for education
programs that may have nothing to do with the poor.

       That would let Republicans support popular school programs without
having to find new cash, responding to President Clinton's education
initiatives while still allowing for a tax cut.

       Neither proposal is going over well with other Republicans who
helped shape the 1996 welfare law, which fundamentally changed how the
nation aids its poor.

       The federal government used to set the rules and promised to help
pay benefits of each person who qualified for assistance. Under the new
system, states agreed to live with a specific amount of money in exchange
for enormous flexibility in creating their programs.

       Like Thompson, Archer warned that future attempts to turn education,
child protection, housing, food and health programs into similar ``block
grants'' to states will fail if Congress breaks the welfare deal. Indeed,
opponents of the welfare overhaul had warned that Congress would raid
welfare money when it hit a financial crunch.

       ``If Congress cannot be trusted to keep its word, ... it will be all
but impossible to enact additional reforms,'' Archer said in his letter to
Lott that also was signed by other welfare overhaul leaders, Reps. Clay
Shaw, R-Fla., and Nancy Johnson, R-Conn.

       In the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens,
R-Alaska, wants to use $350 million to help provide disaster relief to the
Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch.

       States that have spent all their welfare money wouldn't be punished,
but those with money left would lose a portion. The biggest loser would be
New York, which would forfeit more than $79 million of the $689 million it
still holds unspent.

       Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, central to
creation of the 1996 welfare overhaul, introduced a plan Tuesday to let
states use their welfare money for education programs such as building new
schools or hiring more teachers.

       ``It should be as broadly based on education as possible,'' said
Bruce Cuthbertson, spokesman for Kasich, who is seeking the GOP
presidential nomination.

       Even Republicans who support flexibility in federal funding reject
that.

       ``Using it for school construction and things of that nature is a
nonstarter,'' said Archer's spokesman, Trent Duffy.

       Thompson agreed: ``You've got to be in the realm of what's good for
the welfare clientele.''

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