Welfare

Welfare

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
June 4 1997 3:30 AM

Welfare

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Mickey,

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       I don't think it's appropriate or necessary for me to answer you point by point after all the detailed discussion we have had. Apart from the particulars of your continuing assertions that everything is going swimmingly out there in the brave new world, your last intervention simply reiterates your underlying position. Your "impatience" (and please, Mickey, to play back to you a remark you made to me in an earlier exchange, don't lecture me about the need to be impatient about ghetto poverty--I hardly need your advice on that point) leads you to be willing to try a completely untried approach that lacks any evidentiary support, contains no national standards to prevent overreaching by states, and places large numbers of people, especially children, at even greater risk than they are at the present time. If Peter Edelman were running D-Day, etc., you say. Let me tell you something. This is not a war. In war you make calculations that include the certain knowledge that people in your command are going to die. This situation does not, or should not, entail that kind of calculation. Your D-Day analogy is very telling.
       I certainly agree, and strongly believe, that we have waited too long to address the situation of inner-city poverty. The difference between you and me is I am not willing to address ghetto poverty with highly politicized, simple-minded, half-baked, under-financed schemes that entail a huge risk of doing far more damage than good. I continue to be amazed that you actually seem to believe that pulling the rug out from under people and making many of them poorer has anything significant to do with changing "neighborhoods where 80 percent of the households have no fathers, where 60 percent of the population is on the dole ... [where] 6 percent of the students read at grade level." (Where are the jobs, Mickey? What they have enacted here is not your proposal, but rather one that fails to address the central issue of jobs.) This is not the "second- or third-best reform." It is no reform at all and it is unacceptable, in my judgment.
       You can fiddle and diddle all you want with talking (misleadingly, as I pointed out in our last exchange) about what exceptions each state offers and trying to reassure everybody that only people who deserve to get hurt will get hurt. The fact is, as you also admit (and strongly support), this whole thing is premised on being more stick than carrot. The notion of arbitrary time limits is at the heart of the concept here. You can't have that one both ways. You are absolutely right that "Clinton could hardly have picked a better economic climate in which to launch an attempt to push welfare recipients into the labor force." I am grateful for that. That, however, is not enough to make this a workable strategy. All you have to do is look around you and see how many boats are not lifted by the current rising tide. And this is a situation that will only become less workable when a recession hits. If you want to put on a blindfold and ignore basic facts about economics, race, and gender in this country, this bill is what happens as a result.
       I want to refocus the debate on positive steps to build community, educate children and help youth navigate the tough passage to adulthood, create jobs and assure a living wage from work, end violence, encourage marriage and parental responsibility and personal responsibility generally, fight race and gender discrimination, do neighborhood economic development, press for metropolitan involvement, assure health coverage and affordable child care, pay attention to the shortage of affordable housing, introduce a greater public health perspective into drug and alcohol policies, and improve our criminal and juvenile justice systems to make prevention as great a priority as punishment. All of those things are what we really need to do--urgently and immediately--to make a difference. They are the fundamental way in which we will reform welfare, because they will make welfare necessary for far fewer people. When it comes to welfare itself and its immediate future, I believe that if there are not enough private-sector jobs (and I think there are not, as I have said repeatedly), we have to put money into jobs that are financed by public money. And if we are not going to provide work we have to provide cash assistance, in addition to continuing to provide cash help to people who have good cause not to be working. I simply do not understand an equation in which there is the added element of dropping people from cash assistance who cannot find work. That element is in the new equation of welfare, no matter how much you try to paper it over. By the way, that was the fundamental flaw in the original Wisconsin waiver, as I said in my last intervention, which you conveniently ignored in your latest comment.
       At the end of the day, if one adds up all of your arguments and statements about full family sanctions (and what I said, to be precise, is that I am opposed to permanently cutting off grants to entire families), problems associated with affording people procedural protections, time limits, and all the rest, and especially your willingness to push people into a labor market that even now does not offer a sufficient number of relevant, geographically accessible jobs, what you believe is that the gains that will accrue from this approach will outweigh the casualties. I do not. I believe the opposite.

Mickey Kausis a contributing editor at the New Republic and author of The End of Equality.Peter Edelmanis a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. He wrote "The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done" in the March 1997 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. He served as assistant secretary for planning and evaluation for the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration.