"Contract with America", "block grants", "personal responsibility" and "welfare to work" are all familiar rhetoric. With the changing of the guard in Washington, "welfare as we know it" is quickly becoming a relic of the past. The question is whether our newly-elected leaders are reforming the welfare system or simply perpetuating the horrific state of our country's poorest citizens- our children.
Consolidation of federal programs into block grants includes an estimated 5-20% cut in the level of federal spending for many of these programs. If the proposed changes in AFDC were fully in effect today, more than five million children, one-half of the children now on AFDC, would lose their benefits.
Revision of the original plan does not necessarily translate into added protection for children. Both the Clinton administration and state governments, represented by Republican governors, have proposed alternative welfare reform plans. The alternative plans still include support for block grants and federal cutbacks.
Elimination of federal oversight of child welfare programs will eradicate over fifteen years of child advocacy efforts. In the proposed legislation, funding under the Social Security Act for state child welfare systems would be combined into a block grant to be disseminated according to each states' discretion. House Representatives have failed to mention that monies for state child welfare programs are currently linked to federal standards and compliance measures. Receipt of federal foster care money is dependent upon state compliance with requirements such as permanency planning, family preservation and reunification and placement of children in the least restrictive, most family-like setting. Loss of these compliance measures will potentially dismantle a nationwide system developed solely to protect the best interests of the child.
Along a similar vein, elimination of the entitlement status of social welfare programs destroys the safety net for children whose parents are poor. Unlike entitlements which legally guarantee assistance for children and families, block grants place a financial cap on spending. If states run out of money, families will be forced to wait until the next fiscal year to receive assistance. Denying entitlement status guarantees that many children will go hungry, and in turn will be unable to develop into healthy, productive adults.
The current welfare reform proposals, although intended to target single women, realistically punish the children. Without built-in federal protections for children combined with a guaranteed safety net for parents, we cannot expect children in poverty to become responsible selfsufficient citizens.