House Democrats attack governors' welfare plan Critics say reforms are inadequate to protect children

February 21, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats yesterday sharply criticized a package of welfare proposals endorsed unanimously this month by members of the National Governors' Association, including 18 Democrats.

At a hearing of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, Republicans praised the governors' proposals.

Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida, panel chairman, said the governors "rode into town in the darkest days of winter and breathed life back into a welfare reform debate that was on life support."

But all four Democrats at yesterday's hearing criticized the proposals, saying they did not adequately protect poor children, and Catholic Charities USA, a national network of local charities run by the Roman Catholic Church, echoed that concern.

The comments underlined the differences between liberal House Democrats and President Clinton, who on Feb. 6 applauded the governors for their bipartisan effort.

But he and his appointees later objected to specific elements of the governors' package, including cuts in the growth of spending on food stamps and a provision that would allow states to reduce their own welfare spending.

Sharon M. Daly, deputy director of Catholic Charities, said the governors' proposals "would repeal the federal guarantee of protection for poor children, allow states to turn their backs on their obligations to poor families and repeal the right of individual children to receive protection against abuse and neglect" by parents.

"For more than a year," Mrs. Daly said, "the welfare debate has focused almost exclusively on personal responsibility." But, she said, the Roman Catholic Church, from the pope on down through the bishops, teaches that government and society also have responsibilities: to help guarantee that people have "suitable employment," adequate wages and welfare benefits when jobs are unavailable.

The chairman of the governors' association, Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin, a Republican, told the members of Congress yesterday: "Governors are just as concerned about children as you are. We will not allow children to go without protection, without food, without sustenance."

Under questioning by Democrats, Mr. Thompson said flatly, "The Catholic Church is wrong."

The governors said Congress should give each state a lump sum of federal money, known as a block grant, for assistance to poor people. State officials would have vast new discretion to design their own welfare programs.

While poor people would no longer be entitled to cash assistance, the federal government would establish a $2 billion contingency fund to help states with high rates of unemployment or child poverty.

Rep. Sander M. Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the contingency fund "is likely to be wholly inadequate" in a recession. Moreover, he said that the governors' proposals would shift costs from the states to the federal government and "threaten to undermine the food stamp program as a safety net for children."

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