Minimum wage hike could stall welfare reform, hurt poor...


August 14, 1999

Minimum wage hike could stall welfare reform, hurt poor

The real news in President Clinton's recent comments on welfare reform is what he did not say ("Welfare rolls reduced sharply," Aug.4).

Mr. Clinton claimed credit for the good news -- that 35 percent of welfare recipients are meeting work requirements. But he failed to mention the bad news -- that the federal government will soon require states to place at least 50 percent of welfare recipients in jobs.

And he didn't mention a huge new barrier for those seeking work, a looming increase in the federal minimum wage.

State governments, welfare recipient and employers are trying to make welfare reform work. By pushing an increase in the minimum wage, Mr. Clinton is undermining efforts to employ the least skilled.

Research from the University of Wisconsin shows that when the minimum wage goes up, welfare recipients stay on the dole up to 44 percent longer. Many cannot compete for higher-paying work.

More than 40 percent of those still on welfare are functionally illiterate, according to the federal government. They are not attractive job applicants at today's minimum wage, much less a higher one.

For those who care about welfare reform, now is the worst time for a minimum wage hike.

Most welfare benefits were localized under reforms signed by Mr. Clinton. By the same token, the time for a one-size fits-all minimum wage has passed.

If the president truly wants welfare reform to succeed, he should give states authority to set a minimum wage that is sensitive to their economic conditions.

Thomas K. Dilworth, Washington

The writer is research director of the Employment Policies Institute.

Welfare reform and the future of foster care

Secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources Lynda G. Fox is correct in saying, "The drop in (welfare) caseloads is absolutely astounding" ("Welfare rolls reduced sharply," Aug. 4).

My colleague Catherine Born has found additional good news: Of the thousands of children from families receiving welfare that she is tracking statewide, only 15 have entered foster care.

But, except for 20 percent of families categorized as hardship cases, all assistance runs out after 60 months. What will happen to children of families who have exhausted their financial assistance but remain without jobs or have jobs which keep them near the poverty level?

Will their children be candidates for foster care? No one knows.

We do know that two recent federal statutes, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA), could reduce the number of children entering foster care.

ASFA calls for beginning termination of parental rights if a child has been in foster care 15 out of 22 months and for planning for permanent placement after 12 months. MEPA prohibits using race as a placement criterion in foster care and adoption.

Enforcement of those laws could offer children a fighting chance for a permanent home.

Howard Altstein, Baltimore

The writer is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Justice Marshall's family angered by Bell's remarks

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III's angry comments during the Board of Estimates meeting Aug. 4 regarding Thurgood Marshall were manipulative, unfounded and degrading to family members of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

We strenuously object to Mr. Bell invoking the name of the late justice for his campaign. Mr. Bell should know he cannot ride into office on his alleged defense of the late justice.

Mr. Bell's tactic of twisting words to meet his own needs has thrown degradation on the justice's family. He needs to learn that the life and achievements of Thurogood Marshall are, first and foremost, a personal legacy to his family.

Mr. Bell also needs to know that we are supporting the candidacy of Martin O'Malley for mayor of Baltimore.

Edward Thurgood Marshall, Baltimore

The writer is a member of the family of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Race shouldn't guide city's mayoral choice

It seems to me white folks in Baltimore have been supporting black candidates for years. Not once have I heard of anyone being criticized for doing so.

Before Kurt L. Schmoke's election as mayor, black voters supported white candidates for mayor without getting flak.

Things did turn ugly in 1995, when the race card was played in that election. But 1999 was supposed to be different, or so we hoped.

How sad to see black supporters of a white candidate treated as traitors. How sad to see race used as a means of judging any candidate.

There are many issues on which to judge those running for mayor. Race is not one of them.

Burt Bachrach, Baltimore

Schaefer's tax collection doesn't even pay its way

I couldn't believe what I was reading.

The state's two-month effort to crack down on people who make purchases out ofstate without paying sales tax has collected $4,100 ("Sales tax push yields $4,100," Aug. 6).

Wow, give us a tax cut.

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