Everyone supports welfare reform. Nearly everyone, both Republicans and Democrats, wants welfare recipients to be moved to the work force and off the public dole.
However, as speeches Monday by President Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., demonstrate, there is much disagreement on how to accomplish those goals.There are several major issues that directly affect Utah and state governments in general, and Gov. Mike Leavitt, representing the state and the National Governors Association, should keep pushing those issues, so they don't get lost in the rhetoric.
Governors generally believe the states should have more freedom to change current welfare programs and initiate new ones that work best in their particular areas to move welfare recipients into jobs.
Utah has one of the most successful programs in the nation to provide job training and help find jobs for welfare parents. However, the Single Parent Employment Demonstration program has had to fight federal rules continually in order to keep operating.
The Utah program protects children while helping their parents get off and stay off the welfare rolls.
Federal welfare reform should include provisions to allow programs like SPED to operate without federal restrictions. Clinton's "fast-track demonstration approval" appears to be one way to encourage such state programs and others as long as they fall within his five experimental areas of reform.
The governors fail to agree on several issues, including how federal funds for welfare programs should be distributed and how states and the federal government should divvy up responsibilities.
States like Utah that are growing substantially in population need increasing federal funds to continue the programs they've started and others they may need in the future. Current formulas for fund distribution don't take growth into account as they should.
Dole addressed the growth issue and also included in his proposal providing a lump sum payment to states for welfare but allowing states to choose to take food stamps as a block grant or a more traditional entitlement program.
There is little partisan agreement on welfare reform. The governors association members can't agree, either. A compromise will be needed, but several items must remain inviolate: Children must be protected; states must be given more freedom to initiate programs that fit their needs; federal funds must be distributed equitably, with increases for growing areas.