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Jewish World Review Sept. 1, 2000/ 1 Elul, 5760

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports

The villains of welfare reform -- THE JURY is in.

Welfare rolls, since welfare reform, declined 56 percent. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala admitted, "After four years, we have strong evidence that welfare reform is working." But, get this. According to the Los Angeles Times, " ... candidates on both sides of the political aisle take credit for pressing welfare reform."

Candidates on both sides of the aisle?

In 1992, President Bill Clinton ran as a "new Democrat," promising to "end welfare as we know it." But Clinton twice vetoed bills to reform the nation's welfare system. Reformers sought to impose so-called "family caps," prohibiting welfare recipients from receiving additional money for having additional children. Also, welfare-reform proponents sought time limits, as well as welfare-to-work requirements. Too harsh, claimed many Democrats. Candidates on both sides of the aisle?

In rejecting a welfare reform bill, a virtual copy of which he later signed, Clinton said, "I am disappointed that Republicans are trying to use the words 'welfare reform' as a cover to advance a budget plan that is at odds with America's values." Thirty Republican governors sent Clinton a letter, urging him to sign the bill: "You have consistently said that we must 'end welfare as we know it.' The time is now. This is the bill. The rest is up to you."

Sure, the booming economy helps. But in the early days of the Reagan recovery, welfare rolls actually increased. No, welfare reform induced a change in behavior. Surprise, surprise, Democrats discovered, people are not quite as dumb as they thought. Perverse incentives -- food stamps, AFDC, day care vouchers, the Women, Infants, and Children Program, transportation vouchers, and the like -- all add up to far more than a minimum wage job. By ending easy, ready welfare, people made different choices as to when and under what circumstances to have children.

Candidates on both sides of the aisle?

Of the Democratic senators, while 25 voted in favor of welfare reform, 21 voted against it, with one abstention. All Republican senators supported the bill. And in the House, only two Republicans voted against the bill, with 230 Republicans supporting it. Exactly half of the House Democrats, 98, voted against the bill.

Let's go to the videotape: Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., predicted the bill would "put 1 million more children into poverty." Lewis thundered, "They're coming for the children. They're coming for the poor. They're coming for the sick, the elderly and the disabled."

Hillary Rodham Clinton's guru, the Children's Defense Fund's Marian Wright Edelman said, "(The Welfare Reform Bill) will leave a moral blot on his presidency and on our nation." She added, "It takes no political courage to stand up to 2-month-old babies or to play election-year games of political chicken at preschoolers' expense." And, for good measure, Edelman called the bill the "biggest betrayal of children" since her organization began some 30 years ago.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said, "My president will boldly throw 1 million into poverty."

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said, "This Grinch-like welfare bill is not just stealing Christmas from poor children. It's stealing their basic safety net."

A year before welfare reform, the Investor's Business Daily said, "Social scientist E.W. Bakke's surveys showed that displaced workers typically tried seven alternatives before applying for government aid. First, they'd gather up accrued benefit rights, apply for commercial credit, dip into savings, or, if necessary, send wives and children to work or take out new loans on property. If still more aid was needed, they'd turn to members of the extended family, then to friends, for loans and gifts."

Easy welfare creates perverse incentives, divorcing people from the consequences of their actions. After all, why do we get up in the morning and go to work? Answer: Promise of gain, and fear of loss. State-sponsored, no-questions-asked welfare interferes with that basic, human formula and destroys initiative. In New Jersey, welfare reform produced a dramatic decline in teen pregnancy without a corresponding increase in abortion. This tracks the results of a 1985 Los Angeles Times poll that asked whether welfare induces welfare recipients to have more children in order to receive more money. More poor people (64 percent) said "yes" to that proposition, than did the non-poor (44 percent).

Marvin Olasky, author of "The Tragedy of American Compassion," put it this way, "Governmental welfare programs need to be fought not because they are too expensive -- although, clearly, much money is wasted -- but because they are inevitably too stingy in what is really important, treating people as people and not animals."

So, in the end, it does take a village -- of individuals living under a government that respects their hard work, industriousness and pride.

JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of the newly released, The Ten Things You Can't Say in America. (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate