A major new initiative on welfare reform has just emerged from the state officials who administer today's welfare programs, which nearly everyone agrees are seriously flawed. The new program, a product of the American Public Welfare Association, contains a number of areas of common ground with the thrust of Reagan administration statements and papers on welfare reform. But significant differences also exist, which would have to be ironed out for the report to be the essence of reform.
Like the positions of the Reagan administration, the reform program stresses strengthening poor families, ending welfare dependency, and getting families to become self-sufficient. Other welfare proposals of recent months share these goals.
But the welfare administrators' plan requires a substantial but as yet uncertain investment at the very start from federal, state, and possibly local governments, and that is where it is likely to part company with the ideas of the Reagan administration. In a plan expected to be released soon, the latter is expected to recommend only that states be permitted to continue experimenting with various kinds of welfare reform, without pledging additional federal funds.
The program would:
Require welfare recipients to take various steps to improve their education or obtain jobs, and to strengthen their families.
More stringently enforce child support, which has been increasing in the past decade.
Establish mandatory ``welfare to jobs'' programs, including education, training, job search, and placement. Parents with children over three would be required to have jobs or improve their education; those with younger children would take part in more-limited programs.
See that sufficient quality day care is available to permit mothers to take jobs, or additional education. This child care serves the additional need of providing the children with opportunities for growth that they often do not have in severely disadvantaged homes.
Replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children payments and food stamps with an overall family living standard, which would take into account national standards and local living costs. This would be the most dramatic change from the current system.
Drastically revamp the way welfare agencies handle needy families. Retrain personnel to deal with each family's entire requirements under a simplified administrative system, instead of, as today, having many different programs with differing standards, presided over by individuals who specialize in determining eligibility.
Finally, in various fashions establish ways of helping to prevent teen pregnancy, and of aiding teens who do become pregnant and those who become parents.
Stephen Heintz says it is crucial that the funding for these changes be viewed as a financial investment. Mr. Heintz, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Income Maintenance, was the chairman of the steering committee that drew up the new reform proposal.
Funding for the program should be seen ``not just as an expenditure'' but ``as an investment.'' If adequately funded, he says, the program in the long run would reduce dependency and poverty, ``producing new workers, producing new taxpayers, and ultimately returning a substantial new investment'' on the initial government expenditures.
Teams of specialists representing the welfare administrator's group are trying to determine the full initial costs of the program. Heintz says they expect to have the answer ``soon after the first of the year.''
To an extent the cost would be flexible: The faster the program were installed, were it to gain congressional passage and administration support, the greater the initial expense; on the other hand, phasing it in over 10 years would lessen the cost.
``The burden will be on us,'' Heintz says, ``to demonstrate that this is an investment, and that we can show how, over time, it will bring the financial returns, as well as the human and moral returns.''
Democratic control of both houses may result in Congress next year being more willing than a politically split Congress to consider major welfare reform. But Congress, like the administration, is keenly aware of the size of the annual budget deficits.
Further, if the welfare administrators' proposal or other fundamental change is to be made in existing law, the Reagan administration will have to be brought on board, which reemphasizes to the welfare administrators the importance of their justifying, financially as well as morally, the worth of their proposal. -- 30 --