Welfare plan takes aim at teen mothers

December 07, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Hoping to discourage the formation of long-term welfare families, the Clinton administration's welfare-reform task force intends to recommend that teen-agers who qualify for aid be prohibited from receiving it unless they live with a parent or other responsible adult, sources said yesterday.

The change is intended to eliminate what some analysts view as an incentive for unmarried young women to have children: the ability to establish their own households with the aid of welfare payments.

"We want to do everything we can to try to prevent young women from going on welfare in the first place and remove any incentives for them to do so," one senior White House official said. "We also think children who have children should have a responsible adult around."

The proposed requirement that teen-agers live with an adult reflects shift in the welfare reform debate toward efforts to deter illegitimacy, particularly among teens. Though most attention has focused on President Clinton's promise to require welfare recipients to work after two years, reducing incentives for out-of-wedlock birth may be even more essential for reforming the system, the senior official said.

The task force is expected to deliver its recommendations to Mr. Clinton by the middle of this month. In broad outlines it has approved a plan that tracks closely with Mr. Clinton's campaign promises to increase funds for training and education, require welfare recipients to work after two years, and demand greater "personal responsibility" from the recipients of government aid.

But many details remain to be resolved -- key among them how quickly to phase in the work requirement and the closely related question of how to pay for the overall initiative.

The proposal that teen welfare recipients live with an adult -- which, like all the task force's recommendations, must still be adopted by the president -- is likely to draw fire from welfare rights activists, who maintain that such a prohibition may compel young women to remain in unsafe or dysfunctional homes.

"Increasingly research is providing evidence that in a number of cases where there is a teen parent there is evidence that the teen has been a victim of prior abuse in the home," says Mark Greenberg, an attorney at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington. "There is a tremendous danger that government will be intruding into decisions where it doesn't have the facts to know the best answer."

Under current law, states have the option of requiring teen-age welfare recipients to live with an adult; six now do so, including Maine and Georgia. The task force's recommendation would change the law to mandate that states impose such a requirement.

To further discourage out-of-wedlock births, the welfare task force is planning a broad educational effort -- dubbed a "national campaign against teen pregnancy" -- as well as more pointed measures aimed at both young fathers and mothers.

The task force is considering a change in federal law that would make it easier for states to deny additional benefits to women who have children while already on the welfare rolls.

But the task force is divided over the question, and officials say Mr. Clinton will have to resolve the dispute.

The task force already has decided to recommend steps to increase collection of child support from absent fathers.

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