Be easy "to end welfare as we know it," as...

IT WOULD

June 16, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IT WOULD be easy "to end welfare as we know it," as President Clinton promised to. It's primarily just a matter of defining our terms.

"Welfare" is shorthand for the program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

The first thing I would do if I were president is to write into the U.S. Code a non-cash definition of "Aid." Henceforth, the poor would get a credit card that entitled them to buy all the things that they needed for their "welfare," which would also be defined in the Code:

"the state of faring well or doing well: thriving or successful progress in life"

Thus one could buy -- or, rather, acquire -- milk, but not beer, for example. Fruit juices, but not soft drinks. And so forth. Each individual's card would be programmed so that the owner could acquire the necessary calories for a given period and also the proper nutrients.

One could not stuff on potato chips and corned beef sandwiches. Once you hit your quota of snacks, the checkout scanner would reject further ones.

Automatic teller machines won't let you get cash if your bank account won't cover it, and the AFDC computers would operate that way. Plus, they would recommend substitutes that would meet your nutritional profile. Computers at clothing stores and utilities would establish similar priorities and exercise similar oversight. Ditto rent. Ditto tuition.

In addition to redefining "welfare" and "aid," my reform plan would define "families" as:

"legally married man and woman, at least one of whom is age 18 or above and in the work force (that is, with a job or actively seeking one), and their child or children (limit of 2.3 per family)"

I think the intent of that is obvious. Almost everyone, liberal or conservative, black or white, urban or suburban, now agrees that the No. 1 social problem is symbolized by the 15-year-old unwed mother trying to raise a child or two or four in a community in which that situation is the rule rather than the exception.

Not only is the life of the mother ruined, but so are the lives of the children, in many if not most cases. And so are the lives of innocent bystanders who become the victims of the criminals so many of such children, when they are male, seemed doomed to grow into.

The government, of course, has no right to tell a woman, no matter how young or how poor, that she can't have a child out of wedlock, but it has the right to explain to her why she shouldn't, and it certainly has the right not to subsidize her when she disregards the explanation.

But what happens to the children in such a case? How about orphanages? That's not the best life in the world for a child, but in most cases, I would bet, it would be a better life than the present arrangement.

Done right, all of this would be more expensive than the president's "reform." But in the long run, it would be worth it. Maybe in the short run, too.

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