N.J. finds welfare 'family cap' fails to reduce additional births Results could undermine drive for federal rule

September 12, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The first state in the nation to end the practice of increasing a welfare check when a recipient has another baby conceded yesterday that the policy has failed to reduce birthrates.

The Rutgers University study leading to that conclusion, commissioned by the state of New Jersey, could deal a blow to the 20 other states that since have adopted "family caps." And it poses a challenge to conservatives who argued that a federally required cap is necessary for welfare reform to succeed nationally.

The new findings also appear to boost prospects for a lawsuit challenging the policy of excluding infants born to public aid recipients from welfare coverage. In pressing their challenge in New Jersey state court, the American Civil Liberties Union and National Organization for Women have charged that family caps -- or "child exclusion laws" as they call them -- are ineffective and punish children for their parents' actions.

New Jersey officials defended their state's controversial family cap yesterday, even as they released the report's less-than-positive results. While the policy has denied direct cash payments to the mothers of 20,000 children born in New Jersey since 1993, officials said it has helped to "mainstream" welfare recipients and focus them on their personal responsibilities to support their families through work.

"I still believe the power of the public message on personal responsibility makes it a policy worth continuing," said state Human Services Commissioner William Waldman. "The policy here was to put people on welfare in the same position of other people" who might not get a raise at work when they have another child.

Officials pointed to study findings showing that women affected by the cap believed it promoted individual responsibility (86.1 percent) and that it kept women focused on job training and career (71.5 percent). Two in three welfare recipients surveyed said that they believed the family cap is "a fair rule."

Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman said yesterday that the goal of the family cap was never to reduce the birth rate or to save money but to "send a message of personal responsibility to families on welfare that mothers and fathers -- not taxpayers -- need to take responsibility for caring for children they bring into this world."

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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