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 June 1997

Welfare Reform

Welfare Reform is Good News for California

By Roy Ashburn

California's golden opportunity to replace a broken welfare system is here. No longer must we beg federal bureaucrats for permission to make real changes that will unshackle people from the chains of dependency.

But certain principles must guide us as we change the welfare system. Too many people have had their very spirits shattered in the "war on poverty" waged in the name of compassion over the past 30 years. Too many children - and their children - have grown into adulthood without hope for the future. For welfare reform to succeed in changing lives and restoring dignity and self-reliance, we must rekindle the spark of faith.

The American dream must be available for all who are willing to work. That is what welfare reform is all about.

Welfare must be temporary. Those who are able to give a hand-up to people in need should do so. Where people need help to transition to employment and self-sufficiency, assistance will be there. That is why the Republican plan imposes strict time limits on eligibility for cash assistance with current recipients eligible for two years of assistance and new applicants, one. Beyond this, imposing a lifetime limit of five years will keep people working.

We insist that people on welfare work, not as a punitive measure, but because that which is earned means so much more to the individual. The Republican plan revises the Work Pays Program by requiring recipients to spend at least 30 hours per week in productive activities including job hunting, basic education, vocational training and community service.

Job creation and welfare reform are inseparable issues. California's business climate - hampered by too much regulation and burdensome taxes - needs freedom for job creation. Unfortunately, those who now say that welfare reform will not work because of too few jobs are the same liberals who increased taxes, built dictatorial bureaucracies, imposed too many regulations and promoted lawsuit abuse which has killed off job creators.

 

Liberals attack welfare reform as heartless and mean spirited. It is hard to imagine, however, a system more lacking in compassion or positive results than welfare as we have known it. The current system, designed by government, is cold and impersonal. Helping people back to self-sufficiency is secondary to the paperwork which measures success by how few errors occur in the bureaucratic process of handing out checks. It truly lacks compassion and robs children not only of their American birthright of freedom and independence, but their humanity as well.

Nothing could be more compassionate than doing away with the current welfare system, which condemns children to a lifetime of dependency, illegitimacy and a breakdown of family. It robs our children of hope. And to make matters worse, the hard-working taxpayers of California have been footing the bill.



Assemblymember Roy Ashburn represents the 32nd District and serves as vice-chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee.

Take a hard look at the following, frightening statistics:

  • Of the 2.6 million people in California now on welfare, 1996-97 grants will total $6 billion.
  • California has more people on welfare than 20 states have people.
  • California accounts for 28 percent of all money spent nationwide on the AFDC program. Yet, we have only 12 percent of the nation's population.
  • California has 38 percent of the nation's legal immigrants on welfare. Fourteen percent of those on welfare in California are illegal immigrants.

California's working families can no longer subsidize a broken, self-perpetuating system that wastes billions of their dollars every year. The "war on poverty" should have been called a "war on family."

Our commitment to children is our top priority. Aside from requiring immunizations for the children of welfare-dependent parents, the Republican plan will implement the "ultimate safety net" for children. This commitment to California's children funds non-cash vouchers for food, clothing and housing even if the parent is removed from welfare.

Parents must be held responsible for getting their children in school. Education is the surest route to independence that will prevent children from ending up on welfare later in their lives. That is why the Republican plan requires children to be in school as a condition for receiving public assistance.

Welfare fraud is pervasive and must be addressed with one strike and you're out. Under the Republican plan, people convicted of fraud will be banned permanently from receiving benefits.

We should require drug testing of all who seek aid and terminate any benefits for alcohol and drug users. The following is excerpted from rules on providing assistance from a charity organization in the late 1800s:

  • To give relief only after personal investigation of each case.
  • To give necessary articles and only what is necessary.
  • To give what is least susceptible of abuse.
  • To give only in small quantities in proportion to immediate need; and less than might be procured by labor, except in cases of sickness.
  • To give assistance at the right moment; not to prolong it beyond duration of the necessity which calls for it.
  • To require of each beneficiary abstinence from intoxicating liquors.
  • To discontinue relieving all who manifest a purpose to depend on alms rather their own exertions for support.

Compare that to the so-called "rights" of those today who are trapped in the swamp of welfare dependency.

That is why I introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 2, my first bill as a state legislator. AB 2 is based on a program I helped create as a Kern County Supervisor, which allows the county to pay benefits directly to vendors rather than providing cash to recipients. For example, a county would be able to pay a person's rent, rather than giving cash assistance. This move toward a cashless welfare system has saved Kern County taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and prevents the conversion of public assistance grants to payments for drugs, alcohol and tobacco. I am working to make Kern County's success available to all California taxpayers.

With welfare reform, we have an historic opportunity to change the relationship between the state and the counties. Proposed through the California Temporary Assistance Program (CalTAP), in which the state will set basic eligibility and time limits while giving flexibility and control to local government, counties will have the ability to tailor their program to best meet their particular needs. This includes entering into performance-based contracts with non-profit or for-profit providers, an idea I have been driving for years. Financial incentives for counties will get people off the welfare rolls and into jobs.

Wisconsin's Welfare to Work program reduced the caseload by more than 50 percent over 10 years while California's increased 50 percent in the same period. Welfare reform will work in California, too.

Reforming welfare is the most important issue now facing the Legislature. As vice-chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee, I am leading the Republican effort in this battle to help people get off welfare, regain self-respect and be responsible, self-reliant parents and citizens.

The real challenge we face in reforming the welfare system is in reforming, and restoring, the human spirit with love and compassion for all Californians. The very spiritual foundation of the millions of people on welfare has been shaken, and, in too many, destroyed. We must provide the spark to rekindle anew the light of faith where it has dimmed. We must spread the good news to all Californians that our best days are yet to be, if we only seek them out.

"The 'war on poverty' should have been called a 'war on family.'"