Welfare reform facing a very rocky road

April 29, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Presaging just how far the looming battle over welfare reform could go, House Republicans yesterday proposed eliminating all benefits to unwed mothers under 21, while the only member of Congress who was a welfare mother proposed overhauling the system without the popular notion of time limits on benefits.

The proposals -- introduced as separate bills in the House -- are far more extreme than anything in President Clinton's forthcoming blueprint for reform and are unlikely to become law.

But the two new offerings, and another bill scheduled for introduction in the Senate today, signal how little common ground exists in Congress on the sensitive issue of welfare reform and how intractable the coming fight could be. They bring to six the number of competing reform plans now under consideration on Capitol Hill.

While all sides endorse the president's promise to "end welfare as we know it," they have dramatically different notions of how a new system should work and what ideals it should embody.

The administration has spent more than a year crafting a its welfare reform plan, which would require recipients of Aid for Families with Dependent Children born after 1971 to go to work after two years on the rolls -- with the help of government-paid job training and placement programs. But members of Congress said the competing legislation should serve as warnings to the administration that legislators are far from poised simply to accept the Clinton proposal. Many predicted lengthy deliberations that could delay action into 1995.

The bill introduced yesterday by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., and Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, signals that the president's pledge of "two years and out" will be a key area of contention. For many, including Ms. Woolsey, time limits are a problem.

Ms. Woolsey, who collected welfare payments for three years while a newly divorced working mother 25 years ago, said her bill reflects her personal experience. Her bill focuses on the collection of child support payments and places responsibility for the task in the hands of the Internal Revenue Service.

The Republican bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo., concentrates on deterring out-of-wedlock births, a problem he blames for many of the nation's social ills.

His legislation, which has the support of 28 Republicans, initially would discontinue welfare benefits for unmarried mothers under age 21 and include mothers under 25 by 1997.

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