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MOST IN POLL WANT TO REFORM WELFARE SYSTEM

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Most Americans want welfare reform, but not if it means abandoning the poor. And they're even willing to pay more taxes if the government creates jobs to get people off welfare, according to a new poll.

Despite last month's Republican landslide, only 27 percent of those surveyed in the New York Times-CBS News poll released Wednesday said they'd heard of the "Contract with America," the legislative program Republicans want to pass within the first 100 days of the new Congress.And while President Clinton and Republican leaders compete over tax-cut promises, most of those polled indicated they don't want the safety net dismantled entirely.

Nearly two-thirds, 65 percent, agreed that "it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can't take care of themselves." Only 29 percent disagreed with that statement.

Requiring welfare recipients to work drew strong support in the poll.

Eighty-seven percent thought government should create jobs programs for welfare recipients, and 59 percent would be willing to pay more taxes for jobs and job training. Thirty-seven percent would not want to pay more taxes.

Fifty-two percent would force welfare mothers to work, and 71 percent favored a time limit on benefits, even to mothers with young children. But when asked if they would cut off benefits even if it meant leaving children in a house with no income, support for the cutoff dropped to 32 percent.

The telephone poll of 1,147 adults, conducted from Dec. 6 to Dec. 9, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Overall, 49 percent of respondents said they disapproved of how President Clinton was handling his job, while 38 percent approved and 13 percent weren't sure.

Of House Speaker-designate Newt Gingrich, 41 percent had an unfavorable opinion, while 25 percent had a favorable opinion and 33 percent weren't sure.

Asked about school prayer, 64 percent said they thought it should be permitted, while 29 percent said it should not be. But 59 percent said they wouldn't change the Constitution to allow organized prayer in schools.