Governors welcome movement on welfare Signs that Congress will act are promising

more flexibility sought


FAJARDO, Puerto Rico -- Leaders of the National Governors' Association welcomed yesterday the prospect of congressional action on a welfare bill this month but said they still hoped the final legislation would give them more flexibility and fewer controls.

As the association began its 88th annual meeting, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, a Republican who heads the group, said that the governors would seek greater freedom to shift money among different types of welfare spending.

But he said his talks with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other House Republicans had led him to expect passage of legislation the governors could support and President Clinton would sign.

Republicans in both houses agreed Thursday to split legislation on welfare from changes in the Medicaid program, which pays for health care for the poor and covers elderly people in nursing homes.

They feared that Clinton would veto the combined package because of its Medicaid cuts.

In his weekly radio address yesterday, Clinton praised the congressional action, saying the Republican leaders may have produced "a genuine turning point" in the three-year effort to pass new welfare legislation.

He reiterated that he was unwilling to endorse Medicaid cuts contemplated by Republicans.

Thompson told an opening news conference at the governors' association meeting yesterday that he was disappointed not to see action on Medicaid, too, because "that's the 800-pound gorilla that's taking all of our dollars."

But Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the association, said he was pleased that the issues were now split, because it meant action was likely.

Welfare bills pending in both houses envision savings of about $50 billion over six years, in part by giving the states money through block grants with greatly enhanced ability to experiment without clearing changes with Washington.

Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat, spoke for his colleagues in both parties when he urged greater authority for states to decide what constituted "work" in the legislation's mandate to move welfare recipients into jobs.

Another issue that concerns the governors is how much freedom they will have to shift money from the cash grant system that would replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

Under the Senate bill, they could shift that money only to increase financing for day care for the children of newly working welfare recipients.

The House measure would also permit transfers for adoption and foster care.

The legislation would require the states to put steadily increasing percentages of their welfare recipients to work, ending at a requirement of 50 percent in the year 2002.

The governors share that goal but would like to start more slowly, with a 20 percent requirement in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Congress now seeks a 25 percent rate in that first year.

The governors would also prefer to be allowed to credit up to 12 weeks of job-seeking against those quotas for working welfare recipients, and to require that a recipient work only 25 hours a week to be counted toward the goal.

Congress now plans to allow four weeks for job-seeking and to count only 35-hour weeks.

Thompson said there was probably no time to have the bills changed before they go to the House floor this week and the Senate floor next week.

But when they have to be reconciled in a House-Senate dTC conference, the governors hoped to weigh in effectively, he said.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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