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ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip but not Narrow Pick up your FREE copy at over 200 locations in Austin & Houston. For further information call 512,476.0576 or 713.521.5822 MOLLY IVINS What’s in the Damn Bill? Today’s sermon is for the brethren and sistren in the media. Those who like to gripe about them might take pen in hand to write an editor about this one. There’s just one thing the press corps has left out: what’s in the welfare bill. The New York Times has even thoughtfully located the key segment of the citizenry in this debate; it turns out to be the swing voters. “Those votersslightly younger, slightly poorer, slightly less educated than the averageare among those who deserted the Democrats in the 1994 midterm elections.” Now here’s another gripping bit of news from the polls: “Clinton…gets less credit among voters for trying to change welfare than he does on almost any other issueeven ones on which he flat-out failed.” According to the Times poll, “49 percent of respondents thought Mr. Clinton had not made a real effort to change welfare, compared to 44 percent who thought he had.” Exultant Republicans now think they have Clinton in what is known in chess as a “fork”damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaking from his well-known perch of president has an absolute moral obligation to sign this bill.” Well, now that we’re up on the political ramifications of the crucial signit/veto-it debate, could somebody just tell us what the thing would actually do? Sure, happy to oblige. It would shove at least one million more American children into poverty. We’re always calling ourselves “the richest country the world.” Actually, we’re not, but we’re still well up there, and we already have almost one-quarter of our children being raised in poverty. The Republican response to what we all dutifully acknowledge is a dreadful welfare system is to get rid of welfare as we know it by making it worse. The illusion of change, you see, is what they are selling in Washington. But who pays the price? Not these famous swing voters, with their 49 to 44 per cent perception that Clinton hasn’t made a serious effort to change welfare. One. Million. Children. And the one million children who are directly moved into poverty by this bill are only the beginning of the horror that it is almost guaranteed to create. The House bill eliminates all assured federal funding in cases of child abuse and neglect. Victims of domestic violence and’ their children will have no assurance that if they escape the violence, they can at least survive on cash assistance until they are able to find jobs. Let me tell you something heretical about welfare as we know it: it works just the way we want it to for the vast majority of welfare recipients. Seventy percent of those who receive welfare get on it and then get off it in far less time than the five-year cut-off in the welfare deform bill. Of course, that does leave us stuck with the other 30 percent, who get on it and staysometimes for one generation after another in the same family. But if all we want to do is budge that 30 percent off welfare, why harm the other 70 percent who use the temporary assistance as it was originally designed to be used? Under the bills, the federal guarantee of cash assistance for poor children and families is replaced by flat block grants to the states, with a pitifully inadequate provision for extra assistance should recession and unemployment hit. In addition, states are then allowed to cut their own spending on income assistance by 20 percent in the Senate bill, 25 percent in the House bill. Would they do that? Do poor children vote? Could you raise a child on fifteen dollars a week for food, clothing and shelter? There is some kind of magical thinking that seizes politicians in election years. “I know how to fix welfarewe’ll just require them all to get jobs!” What jobs? The reason that most people are on welfare in the first place is that they can’t find jobsor child care. Or the jobs don’t carry health insur ance, so when a kid gets sick, his mom has to go back on welfare to get medical treatment. The way this society works is really simple: The excrement flows downhill, and the people at the bottom are drowning in it. Every little change that makes it harder for them to climb up means that millions more of them drown. And most of them are children. Hey, media peoplethat’s the story, stupid. Molly Ivins, a former Observer editor, is a columnist for the Fort Worth StarTelegram. AUGUST 16, 1996 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER