What's the rush on welfare? Reform effort: Governor's sweeping plan assumes end of gridlock in Washington.

February 13, 1996

WHATEVER THE merits of Governor Parris N. Glendening's new welfare reform proposals, they are based on a questionable assumption. For months, it has been conventional wisdom that the federal government would pass welfare reform legislation. States everywhere expected something before now, even if the changes were less than sweeping.

So far, nothing. Just as it proved on health care legislation, the federal government is showing again that it is capable of reaching gridlock no matter how high the expectations or fierce the desire for change.

Which brings us to the Glendening plan and raises the question: Why?

Why rush to expand a worthy pilot program, while leaving behind some of the ingredients essential to its success? And why try to accomplish all this under the pressure to save money? The pilot program approved last year, which the governor now wants to take statewide (more or less intact), was originally limited to some 3,000 participants largely because of cost.

Successful welfare reform -- turning dependent people into self-sufficient wage-earners -- cannot be done on the cheap. Nor can it be done without more attention to the many obstacles that keep people from getting and holding a job. True, the Department of Human Resources is working hard on problems like transportation -- too many welfare recipients have no way to get to a job even if they find one.

And, unlike the pilot program, the proposal does not require the initial assessment process for welfare applicants to include family planning counseling. Nor does it provide for welfare offices to include family planning services on-site, to ensure smooth, one-stop service delivery. That is an egregious oversight for a program that includes a "family cap," which attempts to discourage women on welfare from having more children by denying increases in cash allowances. A family cap without required and easily available family planning services is merely an attempt to convince taxpayers the state is getting tough.

But looking tough is only politics. Being both tough and effective is a different ballgame, and the only one worth playing.

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