Cutting Budgets At Expense Of the Needy
As states struggle through thinning budgets, generous welfare programs are often the first to be cut, as is happening in Michigan. WELFARE REFORM
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Engler, for his part, plans to push ahead.Skip to next paragraph
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"We're just starting in terms of programmatic reform," he says in a telephone interview. "It has taken a long time with the bureaucracy in the Department of Social Services. But I think we're making some headway."
This spring he plans to detail a comprehensive set of proposals in a special message on social welfare. Part of the effort will be decentralization of social services.
"We're really trying to drive delivery of social services from the local community - [offering] what the family of the neighborhood needs - rather than just to have it fit a state program," he says. Three Michigan cities are participating in such a program, which Engler has dubbed "Communities First." Reforms called cuts
The governor also plans to detail a social contract in which those receiving state aid take responsibility to give something back.
Many welfare experts say the governor's reforms are merely disguised cuts.
"It's a meat-ax approach to a very complicated problem," says Jeffrey Lehman, a professor of welfare law at the University of Michigan. The governor may talk about giving welfare recipients more incentives to work. But next month, the state will cut the amount of outside income that a welfare mother can get.
Moreover, the poor are not some monolithic group, he says, but a diverse group with different needs and challenges.
Tom Falletich sits in another room of the Detroit shelter, reading Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." He is white, nearing middle-age. In the mid-1980s, he owned a small construction firm that employed six people. The company started to falter after the stock-market crash of 1987 and never recovered.
Mr. Falletich moved from his house to the YMCA to another shelter and, eventually, out on the street. He has gone through resume-writing classes and mailed letters to hundreds of prospective employers. No work. Now homeless, he has no address to give even if an employer wanted to reach him.
"I paid taxes in this state for 25 years never thinking that I would need this," he says, indicating the room around him. A shelter volunteer offers him a free pair of underwear, which he turns down. "It's like a long nightmare," he says.
In its report, the Mackinac Center lists 16 recommendations for Michigan welfare reform. The main thrust is to cut benefits and rules that encourage prolonged welfare dependence, such as having more children, truancy from school, and single-parent homes. The plan also calls for expanding education and work requirements of able-bodied adults on Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Money needed for training
Interestingly, many welfare advocates do not defend the status quo that existed before the cuts. But for real reform, they say, the state will have to spend large amounts of money on opportunity.
"States are putting in punitive measures or cuts," says Greg Duncan, program director at the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan. "I would be willing to go along with some of them provided at the same time there are these carrots.... The key is the willingness of states to put money in programs that work."
That means high-quality training - something that does not come cheap. Mr. Duncan applauds Governor Engler for proposing a high-level job-search and training and education program. "The problem is that there are only 15,000 slots," he says.