Welfare panel may call for 2-year benefit limit

December 02, 1993|By Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- A presidential task force is expected to recommend soon a two-year limit on welfare benefits and a last-resort promise of federally funded employment, administration officials and analysts said yesterday. The recommendations would mark a major shift on welfare reform.

The policy recommendations would place new emphasis on job-placement services instead of training for employment, which was the focus of a 1988 reform program formulated in part by President Clinton, who was governor of Arkansas at the time. Some welfare advocates are already criticizing the expected change.

The president's proposal to force people off welfare after two years is tied to a potentially costly new public jobs effort. The jobs could be provided either directly by the government or by redirecting some payments to private employers who hire welfare recipients.

David Ellwood, assistant secretary of health and human services and a former Harvard professor who is rewriting federal welfare policy, indicated in an interview last night that a version of his scholarly call for a "last resort" public jobs program is likely to be translated into policy.

"We need to refocus the welfare system and orient it toward moving people into work," said Mr. Ellwood, co-chairman of the administration task force, which is to give its recommendations for reform to the president in a few weeks. The president will, in turn, send legislation to Capitol Hill in the spring.

Bruce Reed, a White House official who also is cochairman of the task force, said in an interview yesterday that Mr. Clinton was not backing away from his prior focus on education and training, but instead was "building on it."

"One of the things we learned" from the 1988 legislation "is that many people come into" welfare "because they couldn't make it in school," Mr. Reed said. "So for people who failed in the education system, turning around and putting them into a different form of an education system may not be the best way to put them into the work force immediately."

Mr. Reed said it was often more effective to concentrate on putting people in entry-level jobs where they can be trained for better-paying positions. Mr. Clinton's plan would encourage this kind of training, Mr. Reed said.

Advocates for low-income people decried the move and said they hoped it would be reworked before the recommendations are released.

"This shift away from education and training" would be "a distressing development because one of the major reasons why many parents in the welfare system cannot support a family is because of limited education," said Mark Greenberg, an attorney with the Center for Law and Social Policy.

The 1988 reform effort, which Mr. Clinton helped develop as co-chairman of a welfare committee at the National Governor's Association, focused largely on requiring recipients to enter lengthy training programs with no guarantee of work.

The results have been decidedly mixed, federal records show.

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