The Next Public Enemy lAr HAVE SEEN the excesses that ccur when Congress decides to get tough on thugs, thieves and drug traffickers. When House and Senate conferees settle the details of the crime bill, the best we can hope is they will provide for some rehabilitation of those offenders who will be released back onto the street by the next wave of defendants. After the crime bill, Congress will need another “public enemy” before heading into the elections. Next in the dock is that anecdotal welfare queen, who in the popular vision is draining the nation’s resources as she bears baby after baby at public expense. President Clinton has embraced welfare reform, as have his Republican rivals. State legislators also are getting into the act: Chairman Harvey Hilderbran, a Kerrville Republican, at the behest of House Speaker Pete Laney is convening the Texas House Human. Services Committee on May 25 to consider welfare reform proposals during the legislative interim. Senator Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat, has been instructed by the Lieutenant. Governor to get the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which she chairs, to recommend savings in Medicaid and other related programs, with an eye to “substantially reduce the growth in demand…” Republican candidate for Governor, complains that the state’s biennial budget for welfare programs has increased from $7.2 billion to $17.4 billion under Richards. \(The Governor’s office replies that only $1.2 billion is spent on AFDC while much .of the rest of the state’s welfare budget is a pass through of federal money for health care of the heart of the conservative welfare reform agenda: He would cut off welfare benefits after two years, limit benefits for mothers who bear children while on welfare and require recipients to get a job, attend school or participate in job training programs. Governor Richards has supported tax credits for employers hiring AFDC recipients. She wants to expand job training programs such as QUEST, sponsored by the Industrial Areas Foundation and affiliated groups that have lined up San Antonio businesses , willing to offer jobs to program graduates [See “Investing in the People,” TO 12/25/92]. The American Civil Liberties Union, one of those lonely liberal groups trying to stave off the demagogues, recently provided a background paper on the dangers and opportunities of welfare reform. The ACLU noted that combined benefits available to families from Aid to Families with Dependent Children and food stamps are below the poverty level in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In Texas, where 24 percent of our children live in poverty, welfare benefits give a family an income of less than onehalf of the poverty level. A typical jobless mother of two gets $5,796 a year in welfare, including a maximum of $188 a month in aid for dependent children and a maximum of $295 worth of food stamps. If she gets a job, under current rules, she loses a dollar in AFDC benefits for every dollar she earns; if she makes more than $188 a month, not only does she lose AFDC, but her children would lose Medicaid health coverage, which is valued at $269 a month. Contrary to the myth of large and evergrowing families, the. Congressional Budget Office reported that most parents receiving AFDC have only one or two children. The average size of Texas families on welfare is 2.8 while the average size of Texas families overall is 4.2. The ACLU opposes any attempt to condition the receipt of welfare payments upon the recipient’s willingness to waive constitutional rights to privacy and free association; to remove or reduce benefits arbitrarily or without due process; and the targeting of groups for unfair treatment in a manner that offends the equal protection principles of the Constitution. Good luck. One popular proposal would bar benefits for children conceived while their parents were already receiving benefits. That would deprive the children of a welfare safety net, the ACLU warned, and it would deprive the entire family of assistance needed to pay rent and other household expenses. “The child exclusion is not about saving money; it is about singling out poor children for punishment,” the ACLU stated. “There is no valid basis for the government to distinguish between middle-class parents who get income support through tax deductions and poor parents who get income support through AFDC.” The ACLU also called a Clinton proposal to require teen-aged mothers to live with their parents “particularly troubling given the disproportionate number of teen mothers who have been abused by family members.” Of women who had become pregnant during adolescence, according to a U.S. Health and Human Services study, 66 percent reported that they had been sexually abused, with 54 percent of those who reported being molested saying they had been victimized by a family members. The residency requirement also may be used as a backdoor method of excluding teen parents from benefits, since the state likely would count the income of the teenager’s parents in determining eligibility for benefits. Another proposal that is common to many welfare reform packages is the termination of benefits after two years for recipients who are “able to work.” But the ACLU cited a study by the Center on Social Welfare, Policy and the Law, which found that, within seven months of instituting a two-year cutoff for general assistance, the.state of Michigan saw homelessness among former beneficiaries increase to 25 percent, from 2 percent before termination. Another study found that an estimated 27,000 former Michigan welfare recipients went without food for 24 hours or more after termination. “Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, it is a perniciousand dangerous, myth that people on welfare are willfully avoiding work,” the ACLU stated. U.S. economic policies have contributed to a high unemployment rate, particularly for unskilled workers \(and even more so for minority uncipients, the jobs are simply not there.” Finally, when it comes to welfare reform, individual mothers are small fry. Lawmakers ought to cut off the corporate freeloadersthe welfare. kings. U.S. taxpayers this year will spend $51 billion in direct subsidies to business and will lose another $53 billion in tax breaks for corporations. The most costly form of corporate welfare in 1994 will be subsidies for agribusinesses, costing an estimated $2.9 billion. By contrast, the feds will spend $25 billion on food stamps and $15 billion on Aid to Families with Dependent Children, according to Essential Information, a corporate accountability research group in Washington, D.C. In Texas, school districts granted $6.75 billion in tax abatements to businesses in 1992, for a revenue loss of nearly $32.5 million, according to the Property Tax Division of the Comptroller’s office. And Texas voters last November approved a constitutional amendment that exempts from local property taxes the value of any equipment installed for pollution control after January 1. That provision will cost Gulf Coast counties with petrochemical plants millions of dollars, but very few editorialistsother than those at the Observerreferred to this as a type of corporate welfare that should be checked. Instead, look for Congress and the Legislature to single out the welfare mothers.J.C. 4 MAY 20, 1994
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