A NEW Republican bill to overhaul the nation's welfare system proposes a direct attack on the problem of out-of-wedlock births.
``The federal government has got to stop subsidizing illegitimacy and irresponsible behavior,'' says Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R) of North Carolina, the Senate sponsor of the ``Real Welfare Reform Act of 1994.''
The central step this bill proposes is to cut off Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) - the main welfare program - and food stamps to women under age 21 who have children out of wedlock.
The provision would take effect one year after the bill's enactment. Three years later, the cutoff would apply to women under age 26, who account for two-thirds of out-of-wedlock births to mothers on welfare.
The assumption is that removing welfare benefits to such women would reduce the number of such births. No one believes that women have babies so they can collect welfare, says Rep. Jim Talent (R) of Missouri, chief sponsor of the bill. But welfare now changes the calculus of a poor, single woman toward pregnancy by subsidizing illegitimate children, he says.
Mr. Talent believes that cutting benefits would cut the number of illegitimate births to young women. ``It just defies common sense to believe it would not have an effect,'' he says.
Others are not so sure. Mark Greenberg, senior attorney for the Center for Law and Social Policy, notes that the nation's highest teen birth rate is in Mississippi, where a young mother and her child receive only $96 a month on AFDC. The nation's lowest teen birth rate, on the other hand, is in New Hampshire, where AFDC pays $451 a month.
In 1965, when major expansions of federal welfare were established, 5 percent of births were to unwed mothers. Now the rate is 30 percent.
The Clinton plan for welfare reform, not yet in bill form, is concerned more with steering young mothers into education and preparing them for work. It would, for example, require unwed teen mothers to live with their parents to receive welfare benefits so that welfare does not become a ticket to independence from family.
Talent acknowledges that young, unmarried women would still have babies under his bill. He would give the money that would have gone into welfare directly to states for adoption programs, orphanages, and supervised group homes - anything but subsidies to young unwed mothers.