|President Nixon calls it a "monstrous,
consuming outrage;" Time Magazine, "a living nightmare;" Governor
Reagan of California terms it "a cancer eating at our vitals." It's a monster
which affects the lives of 13½ million Americans, costs more than $14 billion
a year and gets bigger and costlier every day. And it's the subject of
my first newsletter on the big issues before Congress in 1971.
I'm talking, of course, about a national scandal
called welfare. In 1970 I worked and voted for the House-passed
version of President Nixon's Family Assistance Plan to reform the existing
welfare system. Our bill died from "coronary filibusteritis" in the Senate
at Christmas-time -- along with much other legislation -- and thus we must
start over again.
You might think no country would long tolerate
a system for dealing with a major national problem if it had even one glaring
defect. Welfare has at least three shortcomings which defy all logic and
First, all of our big cities are overcrowded,
near bankruptcy, and jobs for the unskilled are scarce. Yet the welfare
system, like a huge magnet, draws millions of poorly-trained, poorly educated
people off the farms and out of the rural areas of our country and into
the already crowded cities. There many of them, whether they want it or
not, end up on welfare. Compounding the crush, we have not one welfare
system, but 50 -- a different set of rules for each state.
Thus a deserted mother of three living in Mississippi,
where farm jobs have been mechanized, will receive $840 a year if she tries
to keep her family together at home among her relatives and friends. But
if she can get to Tucson with her children, she will receive $2,004. And
if she had gone to Newark she would have received $4,164.
Second, as welfare developed it incorporated a
basic evil principle which often forces an unemployed, or underemployed,
to abandon his family so that his children may eat. And that includes millions
of men who willingly work, but don't earn enough to feed their families.
How can anyone defend a system designed to drive families apart?
Third, welfare's stated goal has always been to
provide temporary help until a family could get back on its feet. But in
practice welfare rules usually penalize
|those who try to work themselves off
welfare. Suppose our Mississippi mother goes to Newark and gets $4,160
a year in welfare. But she hates welfare and wanting to get off, let's
suppose, finds a $4,800 a year waitress job. But here comes the rub: transportation,
uniforms and day care for the children come to $1,200 a year. Thus if she
takes the job she may become ineligible for any welfare, though
she's worse off by $500. The senseless result: she may become a permanent
rider of the welfare rolls. Common sense would suggest that we encourage
her to take the $4,800 job and let her keep perhaps $1,500 of the welfare
check. The taxpayers are ahead by $2,600, she's ahead, and eventually she
may get off the rolls entirely. But common sense isn't so common in the
Since its piecemeal creation in the dark days
of the Great Depression of the 1930's, the welfare system's chaotic features
have been damned on all sides: the taxpayers who are burdened but support
it, social agency workers who administer it in frustration, and the poor
who must depend on it, often in mounting anger.
So it might be easy, one would think, to junk
a system which outrages Ronald Reagan (who sees it bringing ever higher
taxes and giving benefits to shiftless people who won't work) and John
Lindsay (who sees an evil system bankrupting his city, breaking up families,
demeaning the poor, and inflicting suffering on hopeless children).
It ought to be easy -- but unfortunately it isn't.
Sadly I must report the 1971 outlook for passage of any meaningful welfare
reform is only fair. In this report we will discuss what the Family Assistance
Plan (FAP) is and what it isn't, its cost, and some reasons why passage
may be difficult.
The three main roadblocks to passage are these:
||Some liberals who agree that the present
system is a mess, but say that FAP doesn't go far enough, and that its
support levels are ridiculously low. They are linked in a strange alliance
||Some conservatives who think that FAP
is "something for nothing" and amounts to a